Hello, dear conservatives of the Palmetto State. Buckle up, for we're about to traverse the convoluted, and at times astonishing, maze that was the 125th legislative session. Despite our fair state being redder than a boiled crawfish at a summer low-country boil, the actions taken during the past session might have you scratching your heads - or shaking them.
Let's begin with a refresher. As conservative residents of a "red state," we share the fortune of a majority Republican assembly. Here in South Carolina, we're redder than red—we're crimson. We bask in the glory of both a Republican trifecta and triplex, wielding control over the governor’s office, secretary of state, attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature. Indeed, we have the legislative dream team, donned in GOP jerseys, ready to put conservative principles into action.
As South Carolina conservatives, we expect legislation reflecting the cornerstones of our values: limited government, protection of individual rights, reduced intervention in healthcare, traditional family values, and business-friendly environments. Surely, our Republican trifecta is adept enough to craft laws that echo these principles, right? Hold your sweet tea, folks, because the answer is a resounding 'not really.'
Our General Assembly, a parade of Republican dominance, during year one of the 125th session, resulted in a total of total of 98 bills were presented, with Governor Henry McMaster’s 15 vetoes, including 7 proviso subsections that contain 226 earmarked appropriations that lack the necessary transparency and accountability for state funding. However, did these bills shimmer with our conservative beliefs? Not quite.
To illustrate, allow me to direct your attention to five legislative grandstands during the session:
S39 - Education Scholarship Trust Fund Program
S164 - CON Repeal
S399 - DHEC Reconstruction
S474 - Heartbeat Bill
H3726 - Statewide Education and Workforce Development Act
Despite being featured as legislative showpieces, these laws appear to have missed the mark on our expectations. Quite ironically, for a Republican supermajority supposedly upholding conservative values, there's a surprising amount of... 'creativity' in these new laws. Let's unpack them in the coming parts, shall we?
A Parade of Contradictions: S39 - Education Scholarship Trust Fund Program
Our first legislative spectacle, S39 - the Education Scholarship Trust Fund Program, initially appears to be a beacon of educational choice, a tentpole conservative principle. However, upon further inspection, it seems more akin to a Trojan horse - a wooden façade concealing an unexpected expansion of government power and spending.
Now, my dear fellow conservatives, the last time I checked, "more government" wasn't a slogan plastered on any Republican campaign poster. Yet, S39 seems to have a hearty appetite for governmental growth. According to Jonathon Hill's "Bad Bill" sheet, which, by the way, makes for an illuminating read, S39 requires new full-time employees within the Department of Education to administer the program. The initial cost? A cool $30 million in the first year alone, and continual funding dependent on appropriations thereafter.
Adding to the irony of this law is the role of the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE). Yes, the very same department tasked with managing our failing public schools, now handles Scholarship Trust funds intended for private school education. I can't be the only one smelling the whiff of hypocrisy here.
S39 doesn't stop at expanding government; it saunters right into the territory of personal liberty, specifically, privacy. It requires the submission of a Medicaid card as part of the application documentation, a clear invasion of privacy. The government, like an overzealous relative, seems keen to peek into personal medical information. Not to mention, this compliance with federal guidelines casts a shadow on state sovereignty, a cherished principle for conservatives.
Adding to the heap of concerns is the stipulation that a student must have attended a public school in the state during the previous school year to be considered eligible. Section 59-8-110: (4) appears to redefine "educational choice" to a rather puzzling paradox.
But wait, there's more. Section 59-8-150 of the bill exacerbates an unhealthy obsession with standardized assessments as the primary yardstick of student performance. The rules lay down additional regulations for private schools participating in the program, encroaching on their traditionally enjoyed autonomy. It implies an uncomfortable prospect of increased government oversight over private schools, their curriculum, and assessment measures. It also mandates education service providers, including private schools, to align their curriculum with state standards, potentially diluting their distinctive educational philosophies.
Conservative legislation, as we envision it, should promote limited government, personal freedom, and practical solutions. But S39 seems to be strutting to a different tune altogether. So, dear reader, is S39 really the embodiment of conservative principles, or a wolf in sheep's clothing? Take a moment to ponder over this curious conundrum.
S164 - CON Repeal: A Dance with Free Market Principles
Enter Act II of our legislative show, starring S164 - the Certificate of Need (CON) Repeal. Now, to set the stage, CON laws essentially require governmental approval before healthcare facilities can be constructed or expanded. This piece of red tape has long been a thorn in the side of free-market enthusiasts, contributing to costly healthcare and limited accessibility. A repeal of CON laws, theoretically, should have been a standing ovation moment for South Carolina conservatives. But alas, the final act fell short of its initial promise.
In a twist that might have been lifted from a Greek tragedy, S164, originally intended to repeal substantial portions of CON laws, took a detour and ended up as a delayed repeal. Instead of a swift exit, CON is here to stay till January 1, 2027. What's more, the repeal is only partial, not a sweeping curtain call as we'd hoped. The plot thickens with the assertion that repealing CON now might attract out-of-state competitors to build and offer hospitals in South Carolina. But, my fellow conservatives, isn't that precisely what a free market should encourage?
A plot twist in the form of Section 44-7-266 was then dropped from the bill. This section originally prohibited hospitals from enforcing non-compete clauses in contracts with physicians. With its removal, physicians' ability to practice freely is curtailed, yet again deviating from our free-market principles.
Moreover, S164 imposes a new obligation on newly established Ambulatory Service Facilities (ASFs) to provide charity care at discounted rates. While undoubtedly noble, compelling private businesses to discount their services flirts dangerously with government overreach. This doesn't exactly jive with our conservative principle of minimal government intervention.
Lastly, a study committee has been created under S164 to examine the impact of the CON repeal on rural parts of South Carolina. But I have to wonder if this committee will shed useful light on the matter or if it's merely a delaying tactic, a placeholder, till someone decides to pull the plug on CON altogether... or not.
In its current form, S164 seems like a feeble attempt to wave a free-market flag while still clinging to the constraints of regulation. We're left in a sort of legislative limbo, where CON remains intact for now, and its fate uncertain. One can only hope that in the coming years, this convoluted piece of legislation would evolve into something that truly reflects our conservative ethos.
S399 - DHEC Deconstruction: A Troubling Split
The third piece in our legislative critique involves S399, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) Deconstruction bill. This legislation essentially fractures one cabinet agency, DHEC, into two separate entities: the Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Services. Each will now report directly to the Governor, marking a departure from their previous mandate to report to the agency board.
At first glance, this might look like a strategic realignment. However, the shift fundamentally increases the power concentration in the hands of one individual, the Governor. It raises significant questions about accountability and the potential for politically influenced decisions in these two essential state agencies.
The financial implications of this split are staggering. According to the fiscal impact statement, the estimated one-time costs to disentangle the IT network systems and relocate various operations alone reach over $20 million. The ongoing costs for the new Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Services will also be a hefty sum, adding millions to the annual state expenditure. This financial burden will likely fall on the taxpayers' shoulders.
Additionally, S399 removes the Request for Final Review (RFR) process, a mechanism that permitted individuals and organizations to contest decisions made by the DHEC. With the repeal of the RFR process, the only avenue left to challenge a DHEC decision is to initiate a lawsuit, an expensive and lengthy process that may deter many from seeking justice.
This bill also challenges the conservative ideal of government restraint. By splitting the DHEC into two, the state has effectively grown its governmental structure rather than minimizing it. If the state already struggles with cooperation and management within a single agency, it seems unrealistic to expect a smoother operation with two.
In conclusion, while S399 might seem like a straightforward reorganization, it brings to the fore numerous financial, legal, and governance issues. It creates a costly division, limits recourse for DHEC decisions, and contradicts the conservative principle of limited government. Therefore, this law raises more questions than it resolves and veers away from our conservative values.
S474 - Heartbeat Bill: A Mirage of Victory?
Let's scrutinize S474, colloquially known as the Heartbeat Bill. This legislation ostensibly aligns with conservative values championing the sanctity of life from conception. However, Jonathan Hill's meticulous assessment of this law reveals problematic discrepancies.
Large and Manipulable Exceptions: The Heartbeat Bill incorporates exceptions broad enough to be misused. Unscrupulous abortion providers may falsely claim rape or deliberately misposition an ultrasound wand to bypass the law, essentially keeping the doors of abortion facilities wide open.
Decriminalization of Self-induced Abortions: The Heartbeat Bill strikingly omits penalties for self-administered abortions, particularly those induced by pills. It only prohibits the sale of such pills, not their use. With pill-induced abortions gaining popularity across the U.S. and with DHEC's lack of stringent tracking, this omission creates a dangerous loophole.
Constitutional Discrepancies: The Heartbeat Bill is likely to face legal resistance due to potential violations of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection and due process. If we assert that these rights should extend to unborn children, depriving them of their right to life without due process, and denying them equal protection under the law, is both unconstitutional and morally wrong.
Even if the Heartbeat Bill somehow survives legal scrutiny and successfully closes primary abortion facilities, its problematic features mean it won't necessarily save unborn lives. Instead, it could drive abortions further underground, making it even harder to stop such procedures in the future. It could result in a situation where abortions are taking place out of sight, thus out of mind.
In practice, the law is already hitting roadblocks, as evidenced by Judge Clifton Newman's recent decision to temporarily block South Carolina's six-week "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban.
In summary, while S474 might seem like a triumph for the pro-life cause at first glance, deeper examination unveils fundamental flaws that not only undermine its effectiveness but also risk triggering a significant setback in the fight for life. Far from a victory, the Heartbeat Bill appears to be a disappointing illusion.
H3726 - The Perils of the Statewide Education and Workforce Development Act
We now turn our focus to H3726, the "Statewide Education and Workforce Development Act," which was introduced by Speaker of the House, Representative Murrel Smith. This bill includes a range of provisions related to workforce development, which, upon closer inspection, point to a concerning increase in governmental overreach and the further expansion of bureaucratic structures.
The key changes put forward in this bill include the following:
The formation of the Office of Statewide Workforce Development Coordination within the Department of Employment and Workforce.
A move towards centralization, as oversight for publicly funded workforce development services shifts to this new office.
The transfer of the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Employment and Workforce.
The creation of an Executive Committee within the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development.
The implementation of oversight measures for Regional Education Centers by the Department of Employment and Workforce.
The repeal of Articles 13 and 15, which dealt with the oversight of Regional Education Centers and the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development, respectively.
While these changes might seem straightforward, they represent an alarming move towards excessive centralization. The creation of a new office and the shift towards centralized oversight signals unnecessary government intervention. This could potentially lead to an inflated bureaucracy, bogged down by regulatory burdens, instead of streamlined and effective services.
More concerning are the financial implications of this bill. The fiscal impact statement paints a grim picture: the total estimated expenditure for the fiscal year 2023-24 stands at a whopping $7,442,178. From the fiscal year 2024-25 onward, the recurring annual expense is projected at $4,436,378. This significant financial burden will inevitably fall on the shoulders of taxpayers.
Jonathon Hill, in his Bad Bill Sheet, raised alarming points about this new office. Hill states this office could be the hub of an unsettling workforce pipeline agenda that's been in play since 2019. According to Hill, H3726 pushes South Carolina precariously close to a form of state socialism, given the level of central planning in education, workforce, and industry incentives, all funded by, you guessed it, the taxpayer.
Moreover, Hill warns that the bill could hand state central planners a disproportionate amount of influence over K-12 schools via industry.
So while H3726 may be couched in the language of progress and development, it's imperative to examine it closely. This bill seems to be more about expanding government control and bureaucracy, at considerable expense to the taxpayer, than it is about providing effective and efficient services to the public.
In summary, the 125th South Carolina legislative session, while dominated by a Republican majority, fell alarmingly short of upholding core conservative values. The legislative grandstands - S39, S164, S399, S474, and H3726 - all demonstrated departures from the principles that should guide conservative legislation.
The unintended consequences of these laws present a profound paradox. South Carolina, a crimson state, with a Republican trifecta and triplex, ought to be the bastion of conservatism. Instead, the recent session showcased an unsettling departure from conservative principles.
We must remember that conservatism values limited government, protection of individual rights, reduced intervention in healthcare, traditional family values, and business-friendly environments. The recently passed laws, however, create an undue expansion of government and depart from the principles of limited intervention and free-market competition.
The 125th legislative session stands as a reminder that party alignment does not guarantee a commitment to party principles. As conservatives, it is our duty to keep a vigilant eye on our legislators, ensuring that our cherished principles are not just touted during campaigns, but are sincerely implemented in legislation.
The challenge before us is to reexamine and reassert our values, to ensure the true spirit of conservatism guides the future actions of our legislative dream team. As the 2nd half of the 125th session draws closer, we can hope for legislation that truly represents our shared conservative values. We can, and we must, expect more from our crimson state.
This analysis and critique of these bills are grounded in my personal research, analysis, and perspectives as an individual rooted in conservative values and a deep faith in God. As with any opinion piece, I understand that some readers may hold differing viewpoints. In such cases, I respectfully suggest that you take the matter up directly with God. So, while we engage in these earthly debates, remember that it's the divine wisdom that ultimately guides our journey. After all, in the grand scheme of things, it's His opinion that really counts. So, let's continue to learn and evolve.