Next week the 2017 session of the South Carolina State Legislature officially closes.
Asked how the session benefited the state’s black constituents, veteran lawmaker Rep. David Mack said succinctly, we’re screwed!
Legislators opened the session in January and for the past three months spent three days weekly at the State Capitol, presumably working on legislation that makes state government run.
Lawmakers spent much of their time in session talking about guns and partisan “craziness”, said Mack. But except for last minute responses to the state’s neglected roads infrastructure and its mismanaged pension plan, not much else was accomplished, he said.
Healthcare, a festering ulcer that leaves millions of the state’s most vulnerable citizens with an open wound and only marginal options for a cure, remained a topic for discussion that saw no action, Mack said. Former Gov. Nikki Haley’s refusal to expand Medicaid sent dollars meant for South Carolina to other states.
The need for real healthcare provision was reduced to political sound bites as legislators debated open carry gun laws that made the session challenging for those legislators who tried to draw focus on Black business participation in the economic windfall that’s blowing across the state with hurricane force.
Despite being overwhelmed by conservative legislators who betray their own loyal constituents by pandering to special interests that exclude average citizens, the capitol’s chambers still rang with chimes from a few lawmakers who have been consistent in their pursuit of funding for quality education and affordable housing, Mack said.
Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown said last week as the session neared its close, the pension bill still awaited the governor’s signature and the roads infrastructure bill remained tied up in the Senate. The House passed a roads bill weeks ago. And though the session is set to officially end next Thursday, there’s still the issue of the budget. As usual, most stuff gets done at the end of the session and that’s sad, Brown said. Sadder still is the fact that those issues which more profoundly affect Black citizens never even made it to the floor.
Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson said the legislature’s two-year agenda that puts legislation on a two-year track didn’t help. This was the first year of the current two-year agenda, so bills that were not discussed won’t be heard until next year. Most bills are just coming out of committees where they’re vetted before going to the floor in the respective chambers. He expects an affordable housing bill he introduced in the Senate will go to the senate floor next year. As for this year, not much beyond roads, the pension and the budget will happen, he said.
One glimmer of hope comes from the roads bill passed this week by the Senate, Kimpson said. The bill contains some tax breaks for working class families although it increases taxes on gas targeted to fund infrastructure improvements. While Mack said South Carolina’s citizens got screwed, Kimpson points out that the session however, was a “dogfight”.
“It escapes me why the legislature’s Republican leadership continues to get elected,” Kimpson said. “They’re in a hurry to put together economic incentives for big business, but do nothing for the average citizen. Voters just aren’t making that connection,” he said.