COLUMBIA - South Carolina lawmakers finished their regular session in 2023 passing a flurry of bills that have kept Gov. Henry McMaster's right hand busy signing them into law.
The new laws range from eliminating state permission for hospitals to expand to breaking up the state's health and environment agency. The governor also signed a shield law into effect allowing South Carolina to keep secret anyone who provides drugs needed for lethal injections and employees and others who help executions take place.
The General Assembly has passed 87 bills in 2023. More than 70 of them have been sent to the governor this month. McMaster signed 36 bills into law on May 16.
Lawmakers managed to pass two big pieces of government restructuring they have been working on for years.
Big changes are coming to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
By summer 2024, the agency's environmental work such as checking air and water quality, monitoring landfills and coastal management will be assigned to a new Department of Environmental Services. Food safety will be given to the Department of Agriculture, and veteran nursing homes will be monitored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new law also requires the Department of Administration to review recommendations on how to restructure the health portion of the new, smaller agency.
The state is also getting rid of its certificate of need program, under which hospitals and large health care providers needed government permission to build new facilities, expand or buy expensive equipment.
Supporters of eliminating the requirement said it stifled competition and limited care, especially in fast growing areas. Opponents said the requirement protected health care in rural areas and could prevent hospitals from overspending because of competition.
The new law takes effect immediately except for hospitals that will still need permission to build a new facility or add beds until the end of 2026.
The governor also signed a shield law into effect allowing South Carolina to keep secret anyone who provides drugs needed for lethal injections and employees and others who help executions take place.
Prison officials said the rules are needed if the state is going to restart executions, which have been on hold since South Carolina's supply of lethal injection drugs expired after the state's last execution in 2011.
Opponents said the secrecy prevents the kind of public oversight of executions that assure they are carried out professionally and without causing unwarranted pain to the condemned prisoner.
Corrections Department Director Bryan Stirling said he would start looking to buy lethal injection drugs as soon as he can and petition the court to restart executions.
The General Assembly approved a law allowing teachers and other school employees to take six weeks of paid parental leave after the birth of a child.
The law allows other caretakers to take two weeks of leave and adoptive parents will get two weeks of leave as well.
The benefit was offered to all other state employees in 2022.
Another bill signed into law this month allows students to use nonaerosol sunscreen in schools. Federal regulations meant sunscreen was considered an over-the-counter drug, and school systems had varied requirements from needing parental permission to requiring a doctor's note.
A DAY IN THE SUN
South Carolina's calendar keeps filling. Laws passed this year include honoring Black Civil War hero Robert Smalls, clog dancing and women who hunt.
May 13 will now be "Robert Smalls Day" in South Carolina to honor the date in 1862 when the slave and a crew of fellow slaves and their families commandeered a Confederate ship, sailed past Charleston's defenses and surrendered it to the Union. Smalls would go on to serve in the South Carolina and U.S. Houses.
Clog dancers now have their day too in South Carolina - it is Aug. 8.
And the third Saturday in November is now "Women in Hunting and Fishing Awareness Day." That bill had a little tougher road through the General Assembly.
First, a group of the House's most conservative Republicans tried to change the bill so it defined "woman," a controversial issue when debating bills dealing with transgender people.
Then the bill's original second Saturday in November date had to be changed to the third Saturday because it conflicted with "Penn Center Heritage Day," declared in 2018 to honor the Lowcountry African American cultural and educational center on the site of the first school for former slaves.
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