All remaining businesses that closed as the Coronavirus began spreading across South Carolina began to reopen this week. Legislative committees met to discuss broadband access, regulatory relief and COVID-19 testing and tracing efforts.
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HOUSE COVID-19 EMPLOYMENT, WORKFORCE AND BUSINESS RECOVERY COMMITTEE
The House COVID-19 Employment, Workforce and Business Recovery Committee met again Thursday and adopted a final draft of their recommendations. The committee, chaired by Rep. Kirkman Finlay III (R-Columbia), was created by House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Hartsville) to identify barriers to getting businesses and the workforce back to full capacity. Among the recommendations:
Create a grant program to support small and minority-owned businesses
Support the work of the Limited Liability Committee
Continued support of funding for the Unemployment Trust Fund
Support funding infrastructure efforts for broadband access in rural areas
Expand efforts to make childcare facilities more accessible
Create a study committee to review childcare services to expand affordable childcare options
Support public/private partnerships for PPE for businesses, schools and childcare facilities
Support the Agriculture Department’s “Buy Local” campaign
Secure funding for expansion of culinary schools at Technical Colleges to retrain workers
Support existing legislation for curbside pickup of alcohol beverages
The recommendations will now be sent to the House Speaker. To view the video archive of the meeting, click here.
SENATE RE-OPEN SC COMMITTEE
The Senate Re-Open SC Testing and Tracing Subcommittee met again Tuesday. The subcommittee heard presentations regarding efforts to date on COVID-19 testing with an emphasis on future actions needed to achieve mitigation and suppression strategies. The speakers included representatives from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the University of South Carolina and private sector labs.
Much of the discussion centered on disparate testing mechanisms and the desire of the committee to provide a recommendation to the General Assembly for a coordinated and collaborative statewide action plan moving forward. Subcommittee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) asked the committee staff to provide a draft report for consideration by the subcommittee for its meeting next Wednesday. Committee handouts can be found here.
To view the video archive of the meeting, click here.
HOUSE COVID-19 PUBLIC EDUCATION COMMITTEE
The House COVID-19 Public Education Committee met again Tuesday. The committee was formed by House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Hartsville) to evaluate disruptions caused by the pandemic and identify ways to provide relief in the K-12 system.
The committee received an update from State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and her staff on Act 135, which allowed the Department of Education (DOE) additional authority relating to assessments and reporting, distance learning and programmatic and financial flexibility. The DOE waived state requirements for annual report cards and assessments, including college and career readiness assessments, canceled strategic plans, growth models and parent surveys.
Spearman noted she stands by her previous statement that a statewide one-size fits all plan for public schools reopening is not feasible. She said their surveys show that in some communities 80% of parents said they did not want their children returning to school, while in other communities reaction was the opposite. The same held true for teachers and administrators, with many wanting to get back and others fearful of returning. The DOE will be requesting the legislature allow the same authority provided in Act 135 for 2021 as well as flexibility on the earnings cap limitations for retirees.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Raye Felder (R-Fort Mill), will gather information and take testimony seeking recommendations to eliminate, suspend, or modify current statutes and regulations. To view the video archive of the meeting, click here.
JBRC BROADBAND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE
The Broadband Oversight Subcommittee of the Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC) met Tuesday. The JBRC is comprised of Senate and House members and is authorized to approve various capital projects. This subcommittee was created to begin assessing federal CARES Act funds to expand broadband access in rural areas.
The subcommittee received an overview of Act 142 of 2020 from Nanette S. Edwards, Executive Director of the SC Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), which oversees broadband regulation. Edwards gave an update on hotspot procurement and distribution and progress to date on connecting students to broadband where possible. Currently, with hotspots and wired broadband, an additional 57,000 households have received service. The cost to date has been about $8 million and she estimates total costs in the $16 milion-$20 million range. The ability to cover the cost of the service terminates at the end of this year, so she hopes the new federal stimulus bill will provide money for the spring semester. ETV continues to experiment with and expand its datacast technology, but additional receivers will need to be purchased at a cost of $1.5 million.
The committee also received an update on Mapping and Infrastructure Deployment from Chris Rozycki, Broadband Project Administrator at ORS. He reported there are roughly 184,000 unserved households in SC and the new mapping system has targeted 556 areas that contain underserved households. Applications for providers to build out broadband service in the 556 areas should be available soon. The desire is to get projects lined up with no further delay pending a determination that the CARES Act funds cover the costs to build and the projects can be completed by the end of the year. This subcommittee intends to meet again in the coming weeks.
The Emergency Management Division provides links to important information, including the SC Department on Aging, SC Childcare, the SC Department of Employment and Workforce, the Department of Revenue and the SC Department of Insurance.
Continuing Resolution, H.3411 provides for the continued and uninterrupted operation of state government into the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020. State government agencies are operating in FY21 with the same funding as they received in FY20. The General Assembly will return to Columbia on Sept. 15 to adopt a state budget for the remainder of FY20-21.
SINE DIE RESOLUTION
The General Assembly adopted a Sine Die Resolution, S.1194, which will allow them to continue past the mandatory May 14 Sine Die deadline to complete unfinished business.
Each House will stand adjourned to meet at the call of the President Pro Tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. At this time, there are no plans to return until September. The resolution further authorizes the General Assembly to meet again in statewide session on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, at noon and continue in statewide session until Sept. 24, 2020, for the consideration of specific matters, including the annual General Appropriations Act.
Unless the session is otherwise adjourned Sine Die at an earlier date, the 2020 session of the General Assembly shall stand adjourned Sine Die not later than 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020.
The Testing and Tracing Subcommittee of the Re-Open SC Select Committee will meet on Wednesday.