S.C. Statehouse roundup: Bill would create school voucher-like program

South Carolina Statehouse
South Carolina Statehouse(WRDW)
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 4:13 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - On the second day of the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers took up a controversial education bill that would give families money from the state for their children to attend private schools.

A Senate education subcommittee heard public comment Wednesday on S. 935, which would establish Education Savings Accounts, also referred to as Education Scholarship Accounts, similar to school voucher programs in other states.

Testimony lasted for nearly two hours, with most of the morning’s speakers urging senators to stop the bill from advancing any further, saying it would be detrimental to South Carolina’s students and teachers, the majority of whom attend or work in public schools.

“If passed, this would further degrade a struggling system of public education, and as the system collapses, we will see young people suffer,” teacher Todd Scholl said.

Through Education Savings Accounts, the state would give families money each quarter to pay predominantly for nonpublic school tuition, with other eligible expenses as well, such as textbooks, tutoring services, and exam fees.

Families would receive an amount equal to the state average of how much public schools receive from the state per student.

“When funds are removed from the public sector and granted to private schools, the students enrolled in public schools will, in many instances, be denied quality academic programs,” retired teacher Marvin Byers said.

Under the bill, there would be income limits for determining family eligibility.

Opponents argued the program would take critical funding away from public schools.

Among the groups opposed are the South Carolina School Boards Association and three teacher advocacy organizations, the Palmetto State Teachers Association, the South Carolina Education Association, and SCforEd.

“Education Scholarship Account vouchers are untested, unaccountable, and unaffordable. They’re dangerous for our public school system here,” Colleen O’Connell of the South Carolina Education Association said.

Senators did not vote on advancing the bill during their meeting Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield, saying they would try to schedule another subcommittee meeting next week to discuss the legislation before taking a vote.

More bills opposing vaccine mandates introduced in S.C. House

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina’s state capital is buzzing once again, as legislators gather in Columbia for a new session.

Lawmakers introduced a couple of new bills in the House of Representatives to tackle COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

Rep. Russell Fry (R-Horry) is among those backing some of the latest installments of a GOP-led initiative to take vaccine mandates off the table in the Palmetto State.

One of the bills introduced to the S.C. House Tuesday is the South Carolina Vaccination Rights Act of 2022. It’s backed by dozens of other Republicans as well, including area Reps. Heather Ammons Crawford (R-Horry), Jay Jordan Jr. (R-Florence), and Phillip D. Lowe (R-Florence).

The measure would, in part, make it an unlawful discriminatory practice in South Carolina to refuse someone a job, education, and other services and opportunities, on the basis that they refused to provide their vaccination status or an immunity passport.

An employer or government entity would not be discriminating as long as they only recommended, not required, an employee gets the shot, per the proposed legislation.

“This is a very inclusive country, it always has been, and it’s one of our strengths,” Fry said. “But what you’re seeing, unfortunately, in certain cities and states all across this country is a willingness to embrace a mandate, which is really creating two different types of people, two different types of opportunities.”

Another bill introduced Tuesday tackled mandates specifically aimed at first responders in the public sector.

Per H. 4561, the measure would prohibit compelling a law enforcement officer, firefighter, EMT or paramedic to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If a first responder received any backlash for not getting the shot, like a demotion or termination, they would have to right to bring a cause of action against their employer.

Plan to radically change U.S. House districts proposed

COLUMBIA - State senators now have another map to consider just when the South Carolina General Assembly appears ready to finish drawing new U.S. House districts.

This latest map would make radical changes favorable to Democrats in all seven congressional districts.

South Carolina currently sends six Republicans and one Democrat to the U.S. House.

This latest map would create two districts with majorities of voters who picked Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020, and a third district where Trump won only narrowly.

The South Carolina House is expected to vote Wednesday on GOP proposals that would lock in the status quo.

Senators debate ending state control of expansion, equipment

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina senators have started what will likely be a debate over several days about whether to get rid of a state law that requires hospitals and other medical clinics to get permission to expand or buy most major medical equipment.

The original goal of the Certificate of Need program was to make sure medical care was spread around the state and make sure hospitals didn’t end up in overspending because of competition.

But supporters of a bill to end the program say those limits aren’t needed with huge health care conglomerates.

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