Statehouse Update May 23-25

Statehouse Update May  23-25

South Carolina continued its extended legislative session this week, with lawmakers passing a bill to ban abortion around the six-week mark, with certain exceptions. However, the Legislature still hasn’t passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, meaning it will need to return yet again to Columbia in the coming weeks.

The abortion bill passed by lawmakers, which was signed by Gov. McMaster Thursday, bans most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which occurs around six weeks of pregnancy; however, it contains exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, incest, and fatal fetal anomaly. The now law immediately faced a legal challenge and has been blocked by a circuit court judge until the state Supreme Court can review it.

Meanwhile, next year’s budget appears to have stalled in conference committee. News reports indicate the disagreement mainly comes down to different spending priorities for the University of South Carolina and Clemson. Lawmakers have passed a continuing resolution to temporarily fund state government at FY22-23 levels in the event they can’t produce a new budget by July 1.

Given the recent overspending by our state government, keeping next year’s budget at the current levels is frankly not a bad idea (we suggested the move in our January Sustainable Budget report). In fact, the best course of action is to utilize South Carolina’s surplus revenue for accelerated tax relief, which was also suggested by the governor early this year.

In other recent news, lawmakers passed, and the governor signed, a bill splitting the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) into two agencies: the Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Services. While the move on its face seems practical, having two agencies instead of one will probably lead to more overall spending down the road, something we will be sure to keep an eye on.

The governor also signed a bill that allows local accommodations and hospitality tax revenue to fund “workforce housing”, which we noted as bad policy in our Statehouse Update. Expanding how these funds can be spent will increase demand for tax revenue and could inspire tax-hike proposals, as H&A taxes are supposed to be limited to tourist-related projects.

We will continue to provide updates as lawmakers finish up final legislative business for the year.