Here in the offices of Palmetto Promise Institute, three blocks from the Statehouse, you can hear the faint rumble of the traffic on Gervais Street below. But last Thursday, there was another rumble: the collective sigh of relief that the second year of the 121st South Carolina General Assembly had come to a close.
On June 2, the Senate and House adjourned, not to reconvene until the beginning of 2017 (except for a quick session mid-June to deal with gubernatorial vetoes and conference reports). So it’s a good time to take stock of some key policy ideas we’ve been working on here at Palmetto Promise.
Our key mission is to diligently educate lawmakers and the general public on ideas and initiatives that will grow South Carolina into a freer, more prosperous state. The goal of that work is to see that every citizen, no matter their area code or zip code, has the opportunity to reach their God-given potential.
So with that important background in mind, here are a few key “opportunity agenda” wins that we’re celebrating for 2016!
- A Win on “Right to Try”
This new law gives terminally ill patients in South Carolina the right to try drugs that have passed “Phase 1” of testing by the FDA but have not yet been approved for sale on the market. Freshman Representative Cezar McKnight (D-Williamsburg) and Senator Paul Campbell (R-Berkeley), with the assistance of retiring Senator Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown), ushered the bill through both chambers, opening up more opportunity for South Carolinians who need these life-saving medications.
- A Win on “Volunteer Care”
This law incentivizes (and rewards) doctors and medical professionals to volunteer their time and medical expertise at free clinics across our state. By transferring medical liability to the state and allowing doctors to claim volunteered time as continuing medical education (CME) credit, this bill will attract more medical professionals to give of their time and talents and will help more South Carolinians access quality care. Based on Florida’s experience with similar legislation, the Foundation for Government Accountability estimates that up to 75,000 visits valued at $42,920,764 could result each year in South Carolina under this law. Free for patients, protects physicians, with little cost to the state: that’s a game changer for those who need it most!
Read more about Volunteer Care.
- A Win on Medicaid Expansion
So far, South Carolina has steadfastly refused to fall for the budget-busting false promise of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. But the powerful hospital lobby is still trying hard to rebrand the expansion as “conservative” and “saving money.” They worked to get a tax-payer funded expansion “study” put into the state budget. But our vigilant eyes caught it and brought it to the attention of key House lawmakers who were able to stop this “expansion at any cost” study.
Read more about Medicaid Expansion.
- A Win on the South Carolina Founding Principles Act
We know that good citizenship requires knowledge, particularly of our founding and the government our founding fathers created. A new law, sponsored by Representative Chip Huggins (R-Lexington) will require South Carolina students to take and pass a full semester course on principles of the American founding, including the structure of government, the role of the separation of powers, the Federalist Papers, and the Bill of Rights. This bill will also require them to pass the Naturalization Test for United States Citizenship as a condition for graduation from high school.
Read the bill here.
- A Win to Expand Charter Schools
Thanks to the work of Senator Thomas Alexander (R-Oconee) and Representative Gary Clary (R-Pickens), this session saw an important expansion of the ability of charter schools to serve students who are educationally disadvantaged or need specific behavioral or other accommodations. This is one more key step forward in helping every student thrive by having access to an education geared to meet their unique needs.
Read the bill here.
- A Win on the Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children (ECENC)
In late May, the legislature agreed to a House Budget Proviso, which dealt with important structural questions that threatened the future of the ECENC – and indeed, private school choice in South Carolina. Instead of funding children’s scholarships through multiple Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs) as it has in the past, the new ECENC will be administered under the direction of a single Scholarship Board, comprised of appointees from the various independent school associations. In addition to cleaning up the ethical messes that plagued South Carolina’s largest SFO, this model clears the way for legislation to grow the amount of scholarship available and make the program permanent. The result: families in South Carolina will have a more stable school-choice option for the education of children, because of this new ECENC.
Read more about the revised ECENC.
While these victories are encouraging, there is still much left to be done. Some bills that didn’t quite reach the finish line in the Legislature this year will need to be reintroduced next session, and fresh bills that offer people more freedom and more opportunity in education, healthcare, tax policy and more will be essential to keep South Carolina moving forward.
With your help and support, we won’t stop fighting for the principles of freedom and opportunity that we know make America – and South Carolina – great. So, yes, Columbia is breathing a sigh of relief. But there’s a lot more work to do to reach the goal line…and we’re already at work preparing to get it done. Stay tuned!