Modern Government: 2023-24 Freedom Agenda in Review

Quality of Life
June 21, 2024

Palmetto Promise Team

This week, we have taken a journey back through our 2023-24 Palmetto Freedom Agenda to see how each of our twenty-three policies fared during the legislative session. Did our Freedom Agenda policies make it into law? Or, at the very least, did they start a conversation that future General Assemblies can act upon? 

Today, for our final installation, we are reviewing the three policies proposed for a Modern Government in South Carolina. This category is last but certainly not least—the changes proposed here will make a huge impact that will be felt by citizens across the state.

As a reminder, each policy is marked with one of four symbols to match its status ✅ = signed into law, 📝= conference committee report pending, ⌛ = passed one chamber but fell short, ❌ = no movement. 


21. Split DHEC

Since 1973, South Carolina has housed all health policy and environmental management under one behemoth state agency called the Department of Health and Environmental Control, with a portfolio including federal food programs, septic tank permits, birth/marriage/divorce certificates, and health care regulations, to name only a few. Throughout the pandemic, we learned just how cumbersome this agency was, and as the state continues to grow, it only makes sense to split health and environment into two separate state agencies. In May 2023, the General Assembly passed S.399 to put this plan into action, with the agency split going into effect July 1, 2024. This was a great step toward better government structure in our state. S.399 also commissioned an efficiency study to recommend how health agency structure could continue to be improved for the benefit of taxpayers, citizens, and patients. The study found South Carolina’s health agencies to be the most fragmented in the nation, with six independent health and human services agencies, each operating with their own buildings, budgets, staff, and expenses. As the next step in state government restructuring, the General Assembly moved to consolidate these dysfunctional health bureaucracies under one executive cabinet agency, called the Executive Office of Health and Policy. Palmetto Promise advocated for this plan, and while it did not make it over the finish line before adjournment, we fully expect the General Assembly to prioritize this long-awaited restructuring in 2025. 


22. Reform the Magistrate System  & 23. Repair the Legal System ✅ 

These two recommendations went hand-in-hand in judicial reform legislation debated this year. S.1046 passed the Senate and the House, but the two chambers’ versions of judicial reform looked very different. The Senate’s proposal did not touch the magistrate system at all, while the House created a screening process for magistrate candidates and limits holdover service on the bench. Both chambers agreed, however, that the JMSC process needs reform and followed several recommendations prescribed in our Freedom Agenda and previous judicial reform reports, such as raising the cap on the number of candidates advanced by the JMSC. A Conference Committee was tasked with developing a compromise both chambers can support. Ultimately, the Conference Committee adopted significant reforms to bring transparency and accountability into the judicial selection process. However, magistrate reform was cut out of the final deal, with lawmakers in both chambers promising to address the issue in standalone legislation in 2025.

Tort reform, another key component of repairing the legal system, unfortunately went nowhere this year, after the Senate could not pass S.533, the “SC Justice Act.” This is a topic that Palmetto Promise plans to face head-on next year; all South Carolinians and small businesses in particular suffer because of the “lawsuit tax” imposed by outrageous liability insurance rates. 

Thank you for joining us this week to review the progress on our 2023-24 Palmetto Freedom Agenda. We are thrilled to see so many impactful pieces of legislation adopted, and our team is energized to build on this momentum in the next legislative session.

Make sure you read the progress reports for the other four areas of our Freedom Agenda: Educated Citizens, Healthy Citizens, Flourishing Citizens, and Fiscally Responsible Government.

Let us know what you think should be top priorities for next legislative session – sign up for our weekly email newsletter and send us your thoughts!