Senator Matthews’ update on final weeks of legislative session
by The Press and Standard | May 10, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: May 8, 2019 at 1:22 pm
By MARGIE BRIGHT
Senator, District 45
The S.C. Senate is approaching the final weeks of the legislative session. Last week we debated the budget extensively. The changes made to the budget will now head back to the S.C. House for approval.
The primary focus of the House budget was education reform and Santee Cooper. In response to the concerns of many teachers throughout the state, I filed two amendments.
One of the primary complaints educators have had is that our state government has far too many unfunded mandates. The first amendment was aimed at funding the previous year’s mandates regarding class size ratio limits of 1:15. This limits the class size to 15 students to one teacher. This would apply in those school districts that in the previous year received a performance grade of below average. (Amendment No. 30/Professional staffing ratios.) The amendment failed to pass by a vote of 33 to 12. This vote was primarily on party lines, with the exception of only one Republican supporting the amendment.
The second amendment I submitted required each school district to fund and provide at least (1) one mental health counselor (psychiatrist/psychologist) to assist schools and guidance counselors with students who are dealing with mental health issues such as bullying, depression, addiction and emotional stressors. I am happy to report, this amendment passed.
JASPER PORT: As reported previously, Senator Davis and I vigorously fought to secure approval in the Senate Finance Committee to acquire a commitment of $8,000,000 to Jasper County to further the county’s efforts towards the Jasper Port. We previously met with the governor to discuss our concerns on funding the Jasper Port.
Now that the Senate has completed its work on the budget, our version goes to the House and then to the governor. We (Jasper) have to cross our collective fingers that our funding remains intact and is not vetoed.
TEACHER RALLY: A major occurrence during this week was the Rally on Statehouse by Teachers. A tremendous number of teachers marched from the Department of Education to the Capitol steps where they had a two-hour rally. By some counts, there were over 10,000 teachers. The throng spilled over into Gervais Street and down Main Street.
I met and took pictures with two Jasper teachers (Christina Randall and Davaron Edwards) and Colleton-born teacher who took part in the rally. The energy was high in the crowd and the signs were thought provoking. The message was loud and clear to us legislators: Teachers demand and deserve higher wages, smaller class sizes, and, when new education bills are introduced, we should listen to our teachers.
It is my sincere hope that teachers remain engaged in the government process and not lose their zeal for their mission of teaching our children. I further pray that they let their voices be heard at the ballot box, educate themselves on the voting records of their legislators and that they register people to vote so they will continue to effect change with true education reform.
SANTEE COOPER: Our business this week was primarily devoted to Santee Cooper. The Senate approved a proposal to acquire more accurate information in order to make a determination of whether the state should sell Santee Cooper, hire a management team or keep Santee Cooper. As this would be the biggest transaction in the state’s history, we did not want to embark on a decision such as this without having independent analysis of multiple aspects of the company.
JASPER DAY: On a final note, Tuesday was Jasper Day at the Statehouse. All legislators were excited to have Jasper County Day on the grounds. It is always a day for staff to network with Jasper representatives while enjoying the Lowcountry boil. Jasper Day was indeed a success.
It is my hope that Colleton, Beaufort and Hampton will start a tradition of coming to the statehouse for a visit. These visits will pay dividends when we showcase the beautiful Lowcountry.
(Margie Bright Matthews is the Senator from District 45, serving on Judiciary, Transportation, Medical Affairs, Family and Veterans Affairs, Corrections and Penology and Santee Cooper Special Committees.)