South Carolina House and Senate to return on May 12
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Legislature plans to return in less than two weeks as lawmakers face a deadline to pass key bills before they are required to adjourn.
House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Harvey Peeler released a joint letter Thursday saying both chambers will meet on May 12. They again promised social distancing and through cleaning to prevent any spread of COVID-19.
The General Assembly is expected to pass bills allowing them to take up a number of matters in a special session and extend the time to pass a budget.
Lawmakers planned to finish all this work the last time they met on April 8. But the House and a small group of senators had an angry, public disagreement over restrictions on Santee Cooper as the General Assembly has had to delay decisions on the state-owned utility’s future because the coronavirus abruptly ended most of this year’s session.
The joint letter from Peeler and Lucas emphasized working together.
“While the state pursues reopening, we must stand poised to get back to work. In order to do our work in a timely manner, it is imperative we work together as fellow legislators and fellow South Carolinians. Leadership in both chambers recognizes the importance of this partnership,” the Republicans wrote.
Leaders plan to set aside three days to work to set up further sessions, likely in the late summer and fall to pass a budget and take up other matters which could include Santee Cooper.
The budget is the biggest mystery. Estimates think the state had enough extra money to make it through the end of this budget year on June 30 without cuts.
Before the coronavirus shutdown, the House passed a $10 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 that included teacher pay raises, money for roads and tax relief based on predictions the state would have nearly an extra $2 billion to spend.
But the economy has crashed since then and predictions earlier this month were the state could lose more than $1 billion in that extra revenue. The South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office has another meeting scheduled for May 14 to refine their revenue prediction.
Legislative leaders think it may take until early fall to finish a spending plan. They plan to pass a resolution next month allowing state agencies to keep spending money if a budget is not in place by July 1.
Last time lawmakers met, the House quickly passed its bills, which included allowing an extension to 2021 to the law detailing the process to sell or reform of Santee Cooper while preventing the utility from entering into any contracts over a year in length.
A group of senators said that could prevent Santee Cooper from responding to hurricanes or other emergencies and changed it to allowing the contracts with approval of state leaders.
Santee Cooper took on $4 billion in debt in the last decade for a minority stake in a pair of nuclear reactors that never generated power.
If the House and Senate don’t resolve their differences, the state would shut down on July 1. No one thinks that will happen.
Sen. Gerald Malloy said both sides have been working all this month to figure out a bill that works for both chambers.
“The folks are working tirelessly now, so hopefully we will have something by the 12th,” the Democrat from Hartsville said.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.