State Nonprofit Policy Updates
The SC Legislature returned on January 12. Twenty-one (21) new legislators were seated (15 in the House, 6 in the Senate), and work began on a new legislative cycle. The session was cut short in 2020 due to COVID-19, which means lots of priorities of last session are still a priority - plus our state’s response to the pandemic. There are a lot of big issues being juggled, especially in this first month of the session - Fetal Heartbeat Bill, Santee Cooper Sale/Reform, Education, and of course COVID Response/Relief.
One Big Thing - COVID Relief
The SC CARES Act Nonprofit Grant program distributed $25 million to 686 South Carolina nonprofits. However, the grant program had total requests of over $75 million, leaving at least a $50 million need out in our communities - likely much more given the grant program gave priority to only seven service areas.
So Far… The SC House on January 28th approved a COVID Vaccine support bill, committing $108 million to increase distribution capacity of coronavirus vaccines in the state. While the State cannot buy vaccines, only the federal government has those contracts, the Legislature is trying to boost the ability of hospitals and community health centers to deliver as many vaccines as are received, and prepare for increased supply. The Senate will take up the bill (H.3707) next week.
In Our Sights… There is still no proposal for financial relief in legislative language, although the Governor has proposed a $123 million fund for small businesses (leaving out nonprofits). Right now, the number one priority is making sure that nonprofits are eligible for any type of COVID relief the legislature considers, followed closely by more targeted support for the sector. Nonprofits should be ready to reach out to lawmakers in the coming weeks on this vital issue.
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At the start of every two-year legislative cycle, there’s not a lot in the hopper as the session gets started - bills have to first get through their subcommittee and committee with approval before full debate can occur and the engine really gets cranking. But while the majority of bills have to wait a few more weeks before they get a chance at passage, this clean slate allows the priority issues of each body to jump the line. In their third week back, both the SC House and Senate took some action on a few big ticket items.
Together SC does not take a stance on many of these issues, but this is meant to give you an idea of what has happened so far:
- Senate - Fetal Heartbeat Bill: This bill passed 30-13 in the Senate on January 28th. Having already been queued last year before COVID, it sped through the committee process and ate up almost all of the debate in the third week back. Now the bill heads to the House.
- Senate - Teacher Step Increases: During COVID, the State withheld funding for teacher step pay increases (years of service increases) out of caution for the fiscal impact of COVID. The Senate voted unanimously to reinstate those increases with one-time funding of $50 million in this current fiscal year. Teachers can expect a lump sum payment by June 15 for this year’s increase.
- House - COVID Vaccine Support: The House passed a $108 million bill to bolster vaccine distribution and administration in South Carolina. See above for some more detail.
- House - Santee Cooper: The House passed a bill laying out a process to accept more bids for a purchase of the state-owned utility Santee Cooper. This has been an issue for nearly four years now and legislators are eager to get it off their plate - but it’s still a complex issue and this bill doesn’t solve it all yet.
Together SC Priorities
If you haven’t checked out our 2021-2022 Advocacy Agenda, be sure to do so. Here’s an update on some of our legislative priorities for the year.
- COVID Relief: While the House passed a Vaccine Support funding bill, there has not been any legislation filed yet related to financial relief for the business/nonprofit community. The Governor proposed a $123 million relief fund for small businesses (not including nonprofits). Together SC is currently working with legislators on pushing for nonprofit eligibility and support in any relief funding that is proposed. This is the largest item Together SC is working on right now.
- Childcare Access & Expansion: The Governor has proposed funding to fully implement statewide 4-K. This budget request will be considered by the House Ways & Means Committee in the coming weeks. The proposal is expected to be included in the FY2022 budget package.
- Redistricting: Census data isn’t ready quite yet, but when it is, the debate around redistricting will begin in earnest. Want to know more about the process in SC? Check out this resource from the Women in Leadership Network of South Carolina.
- Federal COVID Relief: Nonprofits are invited to sign on to the National Council of Nonprofits' open letter requesting more specific nonprofit support within the next federal COVID Relief package.