COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – South Carolina Senators voted unanimously to pass a bill that would dissolve DHEC and create two different cabinet agencies responsible for the state’s health and environmental services.
An amended version of S.2 received third reading Thursday afternoon by a vote of 43-0. It would split DHEC into the South Carolina Department of Behavioral and Public Health (DBPH) and the South Carolina Department of Environmental Services (DES).
Under the legislation, this department would be made up of the DHEC’s health related divisions, the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) and most divisions of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH).
DES would be made up the divisions and programs of DHEC that are concerned with the regulation and protection of the environment and the water resources division of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
This bill also transfers the authority to establish, manage, and operate the state’s veterans’ homes from DMH to the South Carolina Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). Additionally, the Food Safety Program and the milk and dairy lab of DHEC will be transferred to state Department of Agriculture. It would also abolish DHEC’s board.
The bill’s sponsor Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) said Thursday’s unanimous vote shows this change is much needed. He said, “I think ultimately S.2 will lead to a more healthy and beautiful state.”
According to Sen. Peeler, the restructuring would make the agencies more efficient.
Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington) is a co-sponsor of the bill. He said working on the bill over the last year in a bipartisan way helped get it passed. He and Sen. Peeler are confident it will pass in the House.
Sen. Malloy said, “Sometimes government is cumbersome. I think every time we see something that could cause a hiccup – we want to make things just a little bit better. Will this be successful? We have yet to see.”
A DHEC spokesperson said in a statement, “DHEC is charged with implementing the laws as passed and as they relate to the agency. We stand ready to work with our partners and employees to put into place any changes to our structure should this or any other bill become law with the ultimate goal of ensuring the implementation is as seamless as possible for the people we serve and our employees.”
The bill is now headed to the House. If passed, the changes would need to be implemented by July 2023.