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When I wrote a column last May with a similar title, the delay in the SC state government’s functioning was engendered by our learning together what was safe to do and what was unsafe, during what turned out to be just the first COVID year, 2020. We have since learned those lessons (mostly), but in 2021 we again suffered a delay in our state’s government functioning. This time the delay was the insistence, before anything else could be done, to hold hearings, and then votes, and then a signing ceremony, to pass the so-called Fetal Heartbeat Bill. The question is this: during a continuing pandemic and the need for economic stimulus to prevent the collapse of our economy, was that really the best use of our short legislative time?
Many (probably not most) South Carolinians consider abortion under any circumstances to be morally wrong, and they want our state government to declare it legally prohibited as well. But the result was totally predictable, and it was in fact predicted: literally the day after our governor signed the bill into law, aFederal Court ruled that the law violated the clear and decisive Constitutional interpretation by the Supreme Court, the interpretation in the famous case Roe v. Wade in 1973, nearly 50 years ago. The Fetal Heartbeat Law was ruled to be unconstitutional and it will not be put into effect. Other states have enacted similar laws, and each and every one has been declared unconstitutional by different courts over the past decades. Some of the more recent rulings are in the appeals stage, with the goal of having the current Supreme Court, with three Justices having been appointed by a twice-impeached President, overturn Roe v. Wade. But there is no guarantee of that – in fact, the current court has surprised many by upholding precedents more often than not. Any definitive new ruling would likely be years off, in any case. The question is not “Is this new law the right thing to do,” but rather “Will this new law make any difference?” For the rest of 2021, at least, the answer is almost certainly, “No.”
What could our state government have done instead? What should be their top priority now? It’s not posturing with political stands that will cost both time and money but have no immediate effect. They could, for example, work on passing House Bill 3609. Everybody across the political spectrum says that we need to do more to support our public school teachers, who are working harder than ever to educate our children despite the pandemic – whether in person, or online, or in some hybrid fashion. Supporting them means, among other things, carrying out promises that the Legislature has made to them. HB-3609 would restore the “step raises” in teachers’ pay that were enacted into law but were placed on hold last year, due to the pandemic. We have the money in the state budget to lift that hold. Passing HB 3609 would indicate to our teachers that we not only will say that we value them, but that we will demonstrate that we value them. This legislation, unlike the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, would make an immediate difference during this pandemic and is not a waste of time and of taxpayer dollars fighting some for new Lost Cause.
It’s time for the state government to get back to work – again. They should have done so in January. It’s not too late to regain focus on effective legislation, in February.