COVID-19 Disrupts Legislative Session

‚ÄčTo say that the 2020 legislative session in South Carolina was different than any other would be an understatement. The session began with fast-moving action, with the amended business license bill passing the House of Representatives and the state budget showing an unprecedented surplus. Education reform was at the forefront of debate. Lawmakers held hearings on reforming or selling Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, and worked on bills involving everything from wildlife to taxes to telecommunications.

The legislative session then came to a halt when COVID-19 began making its way through the state. The Senate met on March 17 to approve a bill to release $45 million to the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control to combat the spread of the coronavirus in South Carolina. The House of Representatives met on March 19 to concur with the Senate bill and send the bill to the governor for his signature. The House and Senate then adjourned until Jay Lucas, speaker of the House, and Harvey Peeler, the president of the Senate, deemed it necessary to call them back into session.

Both chambers returned to Columbia on April 8 to debate a budget bill to continue funding state government and a sine die resolution governing future legislative action. Reforming Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, became the center of debate in both chambers.

The Senate introduced and adopted S1194, the sine die resolution that governs when each chamber of the General Assembly can return to session in Columbia and what bills can be debated.

The House and Senate each passed their own versions of a continuing budget bill, both of which fund state government at current levels. The House amended and adopted H3485, which includes language that appropriates recurring funding for FY 2020-2021.

The Senate amended and adopted H3411 to include language that appropriates recurring funding for FY 2020-2021. The bill includes similar language to that of H3485, but not the exact same language related to the operation of Santee Cooper.

Since legislators could not agree on a continuing budget bill or sine die resolution in April, both chambers returned to Columbia on May 12 to complete work on those two pieces of legislation. House and Senate members adopted a sine die resolution that will bring legislators back to Columbia in September. The resolution sets September 15, 16 and 17 as well as September 22, 23 and 24 as dates when the General Assembly will be back in session to consider certain legislation. The resolution also allows legislators to debate and take action on any bill that has passed one chamber before May 14, budget-related legislation, legislation related to COVID-19, and consideration of conference reports and appointments. After the General Assembly adjourns on September 24, the resolution narrows to allow consideration of only specific items before November 8.

Legislators also adopted H3411, a continuing budget bill that includes language that appropriates recurring funding for FY 2020-2021. Items funded with nonrecurring funds in the current fiscal year budget are not included in the continuing budget bill. It allows the governor to accept federal funding for COVID-19 response through a special Coronavirus Relief Fund account in the Executive Budget Office. The bill allows the governor to directly disperse the funds, with the approval of the Joint Bond Review Committee. The bill also outlines limitations on operational management of Santee Cooper until the September session.

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