COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House and Senate plan to return for one day next week with a limited agenda of passing a resolution allowing state government to continue to spend money if a new budget isn’t passed by July 1.
Both chambers then plan Wednesday to pass a resolution laying out what matters they can deal with after the regular session ends May 14 and go home, according to letters Thursday from House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Harvey Peeler.
The House chamber will be thoroughly cleaned before Wednesday’s session with chairs placed along the walls and members allowed to sit in the balcony so everyone can stay further apart, said Lucas, a Republican from Hartsville.
The House balcony and the lobby outside the House and Senate chambers will be closed to the public but reporters will still have their regular access, Lucas said.
Peeler said he did not make the decision to return lightly, but the bills considered Wednesday must be done in the next six weeks for state government to remain open, and health officials said it would get more dangerous to meet as the coronavirus spreads.
“Knowing that the Senate must return before May 14, the state’s public health professionals advise that this work be done as soon as possible and as quickly as possible,” Peeler wrote in a statement.
The Wednesday session of the General Assembly comes the day before an April 9 meeting of the Board of Economic Advisors to revise its estimates on how much money the state will have to spend this budget year and next budget year which starts July 1.
The state had surpluses in both years — including nearly $2 billion for next budget year — before the coronavirus turned the economy upside down.
In just the past two weeks, the state has had nearly 100,000 people file for unemployment benefits. There were just over 55,000 people looking for work in the state in all of January, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce.
Further complicating the budget prediction process is Gov. Henry McMaster delayed the tax reporting deadline to July 15 because of the coronavirus, meaning at the moment, a budget will need to be in place before residents are required to report how much they owe the state.
While Wednesday’s session is very narrow, lawmakers suddenly have a number of pressing issues caused by the virus they will need to deal with at some point.
With schools closed, graduation requirements and emergency exceptions to other education requirements will have to be dealt with. If lawmakers want to change the date or method of voting for South Carolina’s June 9 primaries, a bill will need to be passed soon to give election officials time to prepare.
And the state budget will need a massive rewrite as a number of items the House planned to use the extra $1.8 billion once predicted for next year — from raises for teachers to tax relief to prison safety to road improvements — may have to be scrapped.