What to know about SC's looming special session

What to know about SC's looming special session

Longtime observers of our state Legislature know that special sessions are common in South Carolina. Typically, they involve finalizing the state budget and pushing conference bills across the finish line. However, after the surprise defeat of a contentious healthcare restructuring measure and with state leaders pushing for its revival, legislative business this summer could be far from ordinary. 

With the first date of special session just around the corner, here’s what to know about the rules of sine die, how they can be changed, the impacts of the restructuring bill, and the other bills perhaps more deserving of a second chance.  



Together, the S.C. Constitution and state law provide for a regular legislative session lasting from the second Tuesday in January to the second Thursday in May. This past one concluded May 9. But what happens after the close of regular session is governed by a more flexible sine die resolution.  

Latin for “without a day,” sine die, or in this case a sine die resolution, lays out what matters can be taken up in an extended (or special) session. While specific session dates are sometimes provided, the current sine die resolution (S.1192) gives no hard dates, leaving the decision to the House speaker and Senate president (though all sine die resolutions allow leadership to call back the General Assembly as necessary). 

This year, lawmakers will return to Columbia for at least three special sessions on June 5, 18 and 25, according to leadership.  

So, what does the current sine die resolution allow? A very limited number of topics. But there is one section, included in every sine die resolution, that leaves open the door to other matters. 

Items allowed for consideration:   

  • Conference reports of appropriations bills (i.e. the FY25 state budget and Capital Reserve Fund spending bill);  
  • Bills passed out of conference committee (so long as the conference committee was appointed by May 9);  
  • Governor vetoes;  
  • Legislation to address a revenue shortfall, if necessary;  
  • Government appointments;  
  • Resolutions expressing sympathy or congratulations;  
  • Local legislation that has approval from affected delegation; and   
  • Resolutions affecting sine die adjournment 


The last line is most significant for purposes of the coming special sessions. Through a two-thirds vote in both chambers, lawmakers can amend the resolution (or file a new one), change the rules, and theoretically take up whatever they want.  

This is the presumptive plan for S.915 – a healthcare restructuring bill that died at the last minute on the final day of session. Gov. Henry McMaster, during a press conference the following week, said that when the General Assembly comes back, “I hope they will find a way to get that bill into a conference and solve this problem.” 

S.C Speaker of the House Murrell Smith recently announced on X (formerly Twitter), “I am committed to getting this bill across the finish line this year!”  

The Post and Courier in a May op-ed reported, “[S.C. Sen. Tom Davis] tells us he’s gotten Senate leaders’ blessing to try to work out a compromise with the House and then seek the two-thirds votes in both bodies to bring the bill back to life next month.” 

In other words, it’s all hands on deck for state leaders to get this bill across the finish line. 

We should note, however, that changing the rules of sine die during a special session is uncommon. Our review found that this last occurred in 2017, where members on the final calendar day of session adopted a revised resolution allowing them to consider local legislation. Two years prior, the House and Senate in June agreed to a new sine die measure to authorize the removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. Statehouse complex.   



So, what should South Carolinians know about the restructuring bill? Is it pressing enough that legislators should amend sine die to make it law? If so, what about other critical issues facing our state? Shouldn’t they receive the same level of attention?   

Let’s start at the top. S.915 would consolidate six independent state health departments under a single Executive Office of Public Health (EOPH), with reported aims of centralizing accountability, reducing redundancies and cost, and improving information sharing and cohesion among the newly merged divisions. Of the entities being merged is the pending S.C. Department of Public Health – the result of a 2023 law to split DHEC in half.   

Here are all the health agencies to be consolidated:   

  • Department of Public Health (DPH)  
  • Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN)  
  • Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)  
  • Department of Mental Health (DMH)  
  • Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS)  
  • Department on Aging (DOA)  

A new health secretary would oversee the EOPH and appoint directors (with Senate confirmation) to manage its five divisions: Public Health, Health Financing, Aging, Intellectual and Related Disabilities, and Behavioral Health. 

The health secretary would be appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation and could be removed by the governor at will. 

To accompany this report, we have published a detailed analysis of S.915, not only to assess its pros and cons, but also to clarify some misconceptions about the bill arising from both sides of the debate. Here are a few takeaways:  

  • Improvements for government accountability are somewhat overstated and missing context. While it is true the bill would make each of the division directors accountable to single health secretary (who in turn would be accountable to the governor), readers should know that Act 60, taking effect July 1, 2024, is set to abolish the DHEC board and make its director appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation.  Moreover, three of the departments being merged (DAODAS, DHHS, and DOA) already have their directors appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation per existing law.     

  • The new health secretary would wield significant power. In addition to appointing the division directors (with Senate confirmation), including that of the public health division, the secretary would be charged with: (1) serving as the sole advisor of the state regarding all questions that involve the protection of public health; (2) determining the course of treatment for patients whose diagnosis involves two or more health divisions (however, a physician-patient treatment agreement cannot be overridden); (3) reviewing and approving division regulations before they are submitted to the General Assembly (having more barriers to regulation is generally a positive so this change is welcome); and other responsibilities.   

  • Future cost savings remain unclear. Helping the bill’s case is a section instructing the secretary to consolidate a range of administrative services, including accounting, budgetary, human resources and information technology roles. The fiscal impact statement, however, gives mixed signals: DMH anticipates potential cost increases, and DDSN anticipates an unknown fiscal impact depending on new responsibilities it may assume. DHHS anticipates potential cost savings, though no amount is provided. The underlying question is whether we will see net savings across the merged departments. But it is too early to know at this point. 

  • Police and emergency powers would be reduced. Thanks to last-minute changes adopted by the Senate, law enforcement compliance with health department orders would become voluntary, and their deployment would require an order by the governor. Moreover, vaccines provided by the department during public health emergencies would require the informed consent of citizens. It remains unclear exactly which medical freedom provisions would make it into the final version of the bill. 

In summary, the bill introduces positive changes for medical freedom and implements checks on police and emergency orders. It also sets up potential, though unverifiable, cost savings, along with improved cohesion among our health agencies. On the other hand, it presents unknowns inherent in any large-scale consolidation effort and vests substantial power in a single state official.  


People will disagree about the net value of this legislation and whether it demands immediate passage. What is indisputable, however, is the clear case of special treatment for this bill, while other reforms – some of which are very urgent – are told to wait another year, if not longer.

On the final day of session, we saw the deaths of two overwhelmingly popular measures that would help to mitigate South Carolina’s growing teacher shortage: S. 124 and S.305. The former would let certain schools hire a small number of noncertified teachers, while the latter would entitle educators to better pay based on previous work experience. Why did they fail? Because the House and Senate ran out of time to reconcile differences among their bill versions.   

Another bill, which unanimously passed in the Senate and would require S.C. school boards to livestream their meetings, sat on the House floor for two weeks without being brought up for a vote. A similar measure passed the House in 2022 by a 2:1 margin, indicating this latest bill would likely have passed if it were taken up. 

However, most urgent is the need for civil liability reform. Local businesses, especially small- and medium-sized ones, are right now being crushed by rising insurance rates and a punishing legal environment. A central issue is that current law allows these businesses to be held fully liable for legal verdicts, even if they were only partially at fault for an injury. 

As a result, South Carolina establishments are closing at an alarming rate. The Topside Pool Club and Blind Horse Saloon, both based in Greenville, announced their closure in May. Henry’s of Cayce closed its doors in January. Last year, Rotties 221 Biergarten located in Woodruff permanently shut down. Each of the owners pointed to the worsening insurance crisis.   

A leading bill to provide relief is the SC Justice Act (S.533), which would address key weaknesses in the law and provide a fairer and more balanced legal system. The Policy Council first wrote about the bill in 2023 and has encouraged its passage throughout the two-year session. Despite showing promise, it ultimately couldn’t muster enough votes in the Senate to reach the House (the split was fairly close.) 

Given the crisis facing our local businesses, if any bill deserves a second chance, it’s S.533 (or its House companion H.3933). 

The Policy Council is not alone in this sentiment. Resurrecting liability reform is supported by a growing number of state organizations, including the SC Venue Crisis, the SC Mom and Pop Alliance, and the newly formed SC Bar and Tavern Association, which held a press conference on May 29 calling on lawmakers to take up the issue in special session.   

At this point, we can’t know for certain whether the House or Senate will agree to amend sine die. But should they take that step, it would be irresponsible to limit new discussion to the restructuring bill, especially with other pressing issues facing our state.   



As mentioned earlier, lawmakers are planning no fewer than three special session dates this month, the first occurring June 5. The main purpose of next week’s session is to fill the S.C. Supreme Court seat held currently by Justice John Kittredge, who is taking over as chief justice following the retirement of Justice Donald Beatty.   

Lawmakers could try to amend the sine die resolution, opening the door to the restructuring bill (and perhaps others). It’s worth reiterating, however, that there are differences between House and Senate versions of the bill that need to be ironed out. While negotiations are likely ongoing behind the scenes, it’s unclear where they stand.   

There are two things we know for certain won’t be taken up: the budget and judicial reform.  

According to S.C. Sen. Harvey Peeler, co-chair of this year’s budget conference committee, the committee doesn’t expect to finish its work until at least June 13. Meanwhile, the conference committee for the judicial selections bill has yet to schedule a meeting (learn about the improvements lawmakers are proposing here.)