Contentious education debate previewed on day 1 of SC Senate
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Senate spent its first day of the 2020 session Tuesday preparing for what could be a long and contentious debate over education.
But even with the 40-4 procedural vote, there was evidence on the Senate floor that opponents are readying to fight the bill, which involves schools of every type and grade level, from pre-kindergarten to technical schools. The bill covers administrative issues ranging from standardized testing to how schools are run.
“It’s the first day of session. We have 4 1/2 months,” said Sen. Mike Fanning, a Democrat from Great Falls who after talking to teachers vowed to do whatever he can to kill t his version of the bill and start from scratch.
Many Senate leaders want the education debate out of the way by the end of the session’s first week if possible, so senators can take up other weighty issues, including other education bills, the sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper, and a possible tax cut or entire overhaul of the state’s tax system.
The budget debate this session also could be extra contentious. The state has nearly $2 billion to spend in addition to its regular $10 billion budget. Republicans will likely discuss tax cuts and rebates. Democrats said that money should be spent on salaries for state workers or such infrastructure items as fixing deteriorating roads and school buildings.
Much of the talk about delaying the education bill Tuesday centered around its length and complexity. Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a lawyer from Columbia, said he read it for four hours and still didn’t feel like he understood it.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey promised not to rush through the bill. But the Republican from Edgefield said delaying debate made no sense either.
“It came out of committee a month ago,” Massey said. “There’s been a lot of talk this was going to be coming up. So we’re not surprising anybody.”
Other events from Tuesday’s opening day, where the sessions in both the House and Senate took less than an hour:
The House welcomed back Clerk Charles F. Reid after he resigned from his position in the middle of the 2019 session to go into private business.
New clerk Patrick Dennis had the job for several months, but stepped aside to become chief of staff for House Speaker Jay Lucas. So Reid came back for his old job.
House members had to approve the move Tuesday. Republican House Speaker Pro-Tem Tommy Pope of York nominated Reid, holding up his old nameplate and saying the state would save money not printing a new one.
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” said Lucas, a Republican from Hartsville, quoting lyrics from The Who after swearing in Reid again.
SENATE PRESIDENT’S PLANS
Senate President Harvey Peeler told his fellow senators he wants to accomplish a lot this session.
The Republican from Gaffney noted that currently hundreds of thousands of dollars are sent to state agencies, which don’t have to account for how they’re used. He said he wants to shine so much light on the murky process that it “has a suntan by the time it gets to the governor.”
Peeler ended his speech with advice his from his mother : “Open you r eyes, but not so big your brain falls out.”
The typical high spirits of the Legislature’s opening day were dimmed a little by Clemson’s loss to LSU in the college football national title game, which ended after midnight Monday.
Still, plenty of lawmakers wore orange ties, which led to a little good-natured ribbing f rom colleagues who are South Carolina fans. The Gamecocks women’s basketball team is No. 1 in The Associated Press poll this week.
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