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After 7 weeks, SC Senate limits debate on education bill

February 25, 2020 GMT
Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, presides over the opening day of South Carolina's 2020 legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, presides over the opening day of South Carolina's 2020 legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Seven weeks of debate in the South Carolina Senate over a massive bill to overhaul public education appear to be nearing an end.

Senators voted 25-17 on Tuesday to limit further debate on the bill. All 25 votes in support of the idea were from Republicans.

Debate on any additional amendment will be limited to 20 minutes, with the time divided between supporters and opponents of each proposal.

Democratic Sen. Mike Fanning, a fierce critic of the bill, said he has 149 amendments remaining, which means the Democrat from Great Falls can debate on the Senate floor for more than 24 hours if he wishes.

The Senate rarely invokes its rule to limit debate, but the chamber’s Republican majority said the debate on the education bill was preventing the Senate from taking anything else up.

On the first day of the 2020 session, the Senate put the education bill in a special place on the calendar to be debated before any other matter.

“I think we’ve got to have a pathway to ending this conversation,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said. The Edgefield Republican supported two other failed efforts to limit debate.

Senators have been working on the bill for a year. It touches every part of education from pre-kindergarten to technical schools. The House passed its own version last March.

The Senate has already dealt with nearly 100 proposals to change the bill. Some were approved, including one to let schools set their own start dates. Currently, the state requires schools to start no earlier than the third Monday in August. The bill gives more state lottery scholarship money to qualified education majors and doubles the amount of money given to teachers to buy supplies to $550 annually.

Teachers don’t support the bill as written because it does little to alleviate their concerns about class sizes, how they are treated by their districts and the criteria the state can use to take over failing districts, Fanning said.

“The Senate today said they are through listening to teachers,” Fanning said. “Teachers were shut down today. Not me.”

The Legislature is in its seventh week of an 18-week session. Lawmakers have also held four long Finance Committee hearings on whether to sell state-owned utility Santee Cooper, with more meetings to come. That proposal will also likely take days if not weeks to debate on the Senate floor.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP