The first session of the 124th General Assembly is now history. Let it be remembered that the year was not only challenging, but it was extraordinary in many ways.
My colleagues and I in the House of Representatives chamber worked diligently from the opening gavel in January to navigate uncharted terrain as the pandemic challenged our state’s public health system as well as our schools and our economy (especially small businesses) in ways we could not have envisioned. Yet, despite the many challenges that continued to emerge, I believe South Carolina weathered the turbulence quite well.
As noted in my column here last month, despite the pandemic that financially crippled many other states, South Carolina intentionally kept much of our economy largely operational. State government spending was held to 2019 levels. We avoided raising taxes or borrowing money while not cutting services. It was quite an accomplishment, and now South Carolina finds itself on solid financial footing as one of the 10 fastest growing states in the nation.
Our Republican-dominated legislature was also able to establish significant upgrades in our education system. Those initiatives included:
• New regulations requiring all schools to offer five-day, in-person classroom instruction;
• 33% expansion of the state’s 4K program;
• A $1,000 raise for every teacher in addition to reinstating STEP pay increases which brings our teacher pay above the Southeastern average;
• Permission for local school districts to establish School Choice/Schools of Innovation.
• Requirements for students at public high schools and institutions of higher learning to pass a course in the essentials of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Because of the struggle so many small businesses went through during most of 2020 and early this year, during the pandemic, we enabled numerous businesses to re-open by giving them safe harbor from COVID-19 liability if they “followed appropriate safety guidelines.”
We set forth legislation to help small businesses be on the same footing as big corporations by allowing S-corporations, partnerships and LLCs to deduct state income taxes on their federal tax returns. Additionally, we extended the abandoned buildings tax credit, offering tax credits to incentivize the rehabilitation of abandoned buildings. I believe these initiatives will be of significant value for local businesses here in the Hilton Head area.
Also put in place were several new laws, which I supported, that have been pursued for many years by local conservative groups. These include:
• The Fetal Heartbeat Bill (now being challenged in court), which is a pro-life law in South Carolina that protects an unborn baby once a heartbeat is detected. Exceptions were made for rape, incest, life of the mother and fetal anomaly (birth defect).
• The Open Carry with Training Act, a law that allows open carry of guns for people who have completed training and pass a background check.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.