The General Assembly was back in session during the final two weeks of September to pass important absentee voting measures and allocate the remaining federal COVID-19 aid funds.
Voting absentee: State Representatives acted quickly the first week to pass House Bill 5305, which provides safety measures which give all registered South Carolina voters the right to vote absentee in the upcoming general election. The legislation included setting an official start date for absentee voting to begin Oct. 5, and then Oct. 30 as the last day to submit an absentee ballot request.
I believe the bill strikes a good balance between protecting our citizens and the integrity of the process. A majority voted mostly along party lines against a proposed amendment that would have removed a witness signature requirement for absentee ballots. Our Republican position was that it would expose the state to potential voter fraud.
A provision, however, allows county election officials to begin processing absentee ballots earlier than normal. This gives election officials more time to sort through the high number of absentee ballots expected by mail.
I believe this legislation was a positive approach to ensure that everyone in our state can vote safely and securely in the November General Election.
CARES Act funding: I was proud to vote in favor of allocating the second portion of federal COVID-19 aid in order to meet some of the most urgent needs of our state. We voted to put $420 million of the $693 that remained from the original $1.8 federal allocation our state received in the spring.
We put the $420 million directly into the State Unemployment Trust Fund, which had been largely depleted since March because of layoffs and furloughs.
Before the pandemic, our state had approximately $1.1 billion in its unemployment trust fund. At one point the state was paying out $70 million a week in unemployment benefits. The fund had been nearly exhausted by mid-August.
This newest allocation adds to the $500 million we put into the fund in the first phase of CARES Act spending in June.
By re-filling the fund, we will the keep unemployment insurance tax rates on state businesses the same as they have been.
We also set aside $25 million for nonprofit organization relief. Nonprofit organizations like Deep Well, Second Helpings and various food banks across the state saw higher demand as people sought their assistance while the economy was plummeting.
Looking forward: In light of the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the General Assembly has decided not to create a new state spending plan before we are certain that revenue estimates are on the right track.
Between March and August our state budget surplus dropped from $750 million to just $86 million. This is the prudent, conservative approach to take at this time. As a state we cannot commit to a budget we cannot afford.
We will address this again in January. Unfortunately, unlike the federal government, we don’t print money.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.