Last week I had every intention of sending out a Newsletter. Unfortunately I was running behind and was unable to do so. This week will be a catch-up and hopefully summarize both weeks.

As we head towards Easter Sunday, I want to wish you and your families a blessed Easter. I hope this Newsletter finds you well. The goal of this Newsletter is to keep you updated on what is happening in Columbia. If you have any questions or would like me to discuss a topic, please let me know.

Week in Review: March 28-April 1, 2022:

These are some of the bills that passed third reading in the Senate over the last week and were sent to the House (click on the link to see the text of the bill):

S.295 – Denial of License Based on Criminal Conviction: This bill states that professional boards and commissions may not solely deny a license application based upon an applicant’s prior criminal conviction, unless the conviction relates directly to the duties and responsibilities for the occupation or license being sought. Boards and commissions shall identify crimes that would lead to automatic disqualification and obtain a determination from the appropriate board of commission whether the criminal conviction is a disqualifying conviction. I voted in favor.
S.935 – Education Scholarship Accounts: I have written about this bill for the past 2 weeks. This will allow a $6,000 scholarship for children who qualify to attend a school of their choice. I was concerned about the Fort Mill School District being forced to accept students from other districts (a/k/a open enrollment) and added an amendment to stop that from happening. As I said in my previous Newsletters, this bill will have very little effect on students in Fort Mill or Indian Land. What it does though is give opportunities to the poorest children in our state. We can argue over the efficacy of routing money from a public school to a private one, but the reality is that there are areas of our State where nothing has worked and children are suffering. I would encourage you to look back at my previous emails for a more in-depth discussion of this legislation. I voted in favor.

Week in Review: April 4-April 8, 2022:

S.90 – Separate Confinement of Juvenile Offenders: A joint resolution calls for an amendment to the State Constitution to raise the age for separate confinement of juvenile offenders with older confined persons from seventeen years of age to eighteen. I voted in favor of this resolution.

S.613 – Unlicensed Assistive Personnel: This will allow certified medical assistants (CMA) to perform specific functions. A CMA may be authorized by a physician to perform certain tasks including: administering controlled medications; injecting neurotoxin products or tissue fillers; using lasers that results in tissue destruction; placing sutures; radiation; diagnosing symptoms or tests; triaging patients; testing for allergies; and performing a task by means of telemedicine. The CMA must wear an appropriate badge identifying their status and follow all guidelines and regulations when performing the task. I voted in favor.

S.674 – Booster Club Financial Officers: This bill states that the chief financial officer or treasurer of a booster club or other parent-led organization that raises funds for school programs, athletics or activities must not have been convicted of, pled guilty or nolo contendere to a financial crimes felony. If the person is identified to have, then the person must immediately resign and a new person shall be assigned to that role within a booster club. Each booster club within a district must annually register with the school district board of trustees no later than August first. The treasurer must receive a state criminal records check, including fingerprints, from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to serve. You would think this would already be a requirement - apparently it is not. I voted in favor.

S.697 – Anatomical Gift: This provides that a coroner must cooperate expeditiously with procurement organizations to maximize the opportunity to recover anatomical gifts for purposes of transplantation, therapy, research or education. I voted in favor.

S.923 – Youth Patriotic Societies: This will allow youth patriotic societies to address public school students to promote patriotism, and kindred virtues among elementary, middle, and high school students. Organizations that are allowed to address students include Big Brother – Big Sisters of American; Boy Scouts of America; Boys and Girls Clubs of America; Future Farmers of America; Girl Scouts of the United States of America or other organizations approved by the State Board of Education. Patriotism Week is observed to include November 11th as established in the Code. The State Superintendent of Education shall require school districts to observe Patriot Day, Constitution Day and Patriotism Week with appropriate ceremonies, events and assemblies. I voted in favor of this legislation.

S.945 – Public Access to School Board Meetings: Once passed this will require school boards to adopt, and implement policies that provide live electronic transmission of meetings. The suggested approaches include livestreaming and improving livestreaming capacity. Districts shall adopt a policy and submit to the State Superintendent of Education for approval by the State Board of Education. I voted in favor.
S.969 – Display of Official Mottos: This bill will require the State Board of Education to make rules and regulations requiring the display of official mottos of the United States of America, “In God We Trust;” and South Carolina, “Dum Spiro Spero,” (While I breathe, I hope) and “Animis Opibusque Parati” (Prepared in minds and resources). The head of a public school shall ensure the mottos are displayed in a manner adopted by the State Board of Education. I voted in favor.

S.984 – Local Governments To Assess Taxes: This legislation states that a service or user fee paid in return for a particular government service or program must be (a) used for the benefit of the payers, (b) only used for specific improvement contemplated, (c) must not exceed the cost of the improvement and (d) be uniformly imposed on all payers. This legislation was in response to numerous issues throughout the State. While this legislation has good intentions, I am concerned that it will lead to greater taxation - especially at the local level. As a result, I voted against S.984.
S.1031 – Register of Deeds: This legislation establishes qualifications to be eligible to hold the office of Register of Deeds (ROD). A person must be a citizen of the United States and the State; be a qualified elector of the county; hold a four-year bachelor’s degree, have at least four years experience in law, real estate, or accounting, or as an employee in the Register of Deeds office; and not have a pattern of failing to properly record in a time and manner recognized in the Code. A quo warranto action may be brought to determine a register of deeds’ eligibility to hold office. Why was this needed you ask? In Charleston County the ROD is over 6 months behind with filings, and there is not a way to remove him from office. This delay has been catastrophic on the real estate industry in Charleston. I voted in favor.

S.1077 – Storm Recovery Activity: This will allow the Public Service Commission to authorize the issuance of bonds for offsetting and reducing prudently incurred costs related to storm recovery activity. The legislation establishes a process and requirements for the authorization of bonds. Without this legislation power companies in South Carolina would be forced to raise their rates due to storm damage from hurricanes and other natural disasters. This will allow the utility to issue bonds and spread the storm damage costs out over a larger period of time. I voted in favor.

S.1103 – Child Identification Kits: A bill to require the Department of Education to provide all school district and open-enrollment charter schools issue inkless, in-home fingerprint and DNA identification kits on request to the parent or legal custodian of any kindergarten, elementary or middle school student. A parent or legal custodian who receives a fingerprint and DNA identification kit may submit the kit to law enforcement to help locate and return a missing or trafficked child. I have received several emails on this bill complaining that it would allow the government to track children. That is simply untrue. The fingerprints and DNA remain in the custody of the parent and would only be turned over to law enforcement in case of an emergency. I voted in favor of this legislation.

S.1136 – Audiology and Speech-Language Interstate Compact Act: This bill outlines state participation in a Audiology and Speech-Language Interstate Compact, and spells out the privileges for audiologists and speech-language pathologists. A license issued by a home state must be recognized by each member state as the authorizing licensee for privilege to practice, and the department shall require a national criminal records check supported by fingerprints by the FBI and SLED. Persons must meet educational requirements, and other required provisions. I voted in favor.
S.1179 – Telehealth: This defines telehealth as the practice of social work using electronic communications, information technology or other means between a licensee in one location and a patient in another location with or without an intervening practitioner. The bill deals with definition of Independent Social Worker-AP or Independent Social Worker-CP and requires individuals who are licensed in the state or hold an active license to provide these services to be registered and provide services applicable with the scope of practice. I voted in favor.

These are some of the bills that passed second reading in the Senate over the last week (click on the link to see the text of the bill):

H.3859 – Electronic Dissemination of Commercial Recordings: A bill to require a person who owns or operates a website or online service dealing in substantial part in the electronic dissemination of third-party commercial recordings or audiovisual works, directly or indirectly, and who electronically disseminates the works to consumers to disclose clearly and conspicuously his correct name, physical address, telephone number and email address on his website in a location readily accessible by a consumer. The owner, assignee, or authorized agent or exclusive licensee of a commercial recording or audiovisual work electronically disseminated by a website may bring a private cause of action to obtain declaratory judgment for a person who violates the section. This is a House bill that has crossed over to the Senate. This bill aims at protecting images and music on the internet. I voted in favor.
S.22 – Children in Adult Jails: A bill to provide that children must not be placed in adult jails for more than six hours. Guardians seeking an incorrigibility determination must have made reasonable to resolve challenges confronting the family. Detention of a child for probation violations or contempt of court must only be from a prior criminal adjudication. The bill provides for automatic expungement of status offenses at age eighteen. I voted in favor.

H.3105 – South Carolina Religious Freedom Act: Once enacted, this bill will protect the free exercise of religion during a State of Emergency. It establishes that religious services are deemed an essential service, that state and local government may not limit operating during a state of emergency to a greater extent that it limits operations and services of other organizations that provide essential services. I voted in favor.

H.3126 - Vaccine Mandates:

COVID-19 vaccine mandates dominated the news last year. Whether you supported them or were against, this was certainly a divisive issue. Last week the Senate adopted H.3126 (although it was heavily amended from the House version). Simply put, this bill states that a federal vaccine mandate is unconstitutional and shall not be enforced by the State unless, after legal challenge, courts of the State or of the United States hold it to be enforceable.

It also states that the State of South Carolina or a political subdivision, including a school district, may not enact a vaccine mandate for any employee, independent contractor or nonemployee vendor as a condition of employment or business; a student as a condition of attendance; or participant, volunteer or other person associated with an event or activity. There are exceptions for employers that are required to do so under federal law or regulation (or most likely contract). Additionally, no State or political subdivision may terminate, suspend, or otherwise reduce the compensation of a person employed as a first responder if the first responder does not undergo a COVID-19 vaccination.

Private employers who terminate, suspend or reduce the compensation of an employee as a result of their vaccination status is subject to unemployment benefits from January 1, 2022 forward. A private employer’s vaccine mandate may not extend to independent contractors, vendors or third-parties, and be used to coerce independent contractors, vendors or other parties to implement a vaccine mandate to maintain a business relationship.

We added a provision that states a religious exemption or medical exemption must be honored and may include the presence of antibodies as a medical exemption. All persons, regardless of vaccination status, shall enjoy the full and equal access to goods, services, facilities, privileges and advantages of accommodations in any public place including, but not limited to: hotels, motels or other lodging; any restaurant, cafeteria, gasoline station; hospitals, clinics or other medical facilities; retain or wholesale establishments; concert halls, golf courses, recreation or entertainment facilities; and more. 

I have stated numerous times over the past year that a person's choice of whether to take a COVID-19 vaccine is theirs, and theirs alone. No one should be shamed or attacked for either taking a vaccine or not. I would continue to call for people to talk with the doctor and make a decision that is best for them. This bill now heads back to the SC House for their approval. I voted in favor of this legislation.

Election Laws:

Many constituents have been contacting me about the election laws legislation. In mid February, the House of Representatives amended legislation and sent it back to the Senate. That bill can be seen HERE. On March 3, the House sent the Senate another bill which can be seen HERE. As passed by the House, the bills would modify the state’s election laws by allowing for two weeks of early voting, shifting from requiring absentee ballots to be completed in-person to allowing the mailing in of absentee ballots, and amending the law to increase the penalty for voter fraud from a misdemeanor to a felony. Under the legislation, no excuse is required to vote early but voters would need a reason as to why they could not vote in person when requesting a mail-in ballot. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee meet on the bills last week and will likely meet again this week. (The date and time is not posted yet.) I expect the legislation to be taken up by the full Senate in the coming weeks. 

S.531 – Save Women’s Sports Act:

If passed this bill will require the designation of separate sex-specific athletic teams of sports. Interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural or club athletic teams sponsored by a public elementary or secondary school or public post-secondary institution must be expressly designated based on biological sex at birth for team members: males, men or boys; females, women or girls; coed or mixed to include both males and females. A private school or institution sponsoring a team or sport which competes against a public school or institution must comply with the Act. A civil action brought under the section must be initiated within two years after the alleged harm occurred. I am sure many of you have read or heard about the swimmer at Penn University who is biologically male but swims on the women's swim team. That swimmer set numerous conference records and won an event at the NCAA Championships. The goal of this legislation is to protect biological women and insure that the rights given to them under Title IX are upheld. As of today fourteen states have passed similar legislation. This bill will most likely be on the floor of the Senate in the next two to three weeks.

Thank you for believing in me and allowing me to represent District 16 in Columbia. Again, if you have any questions, or you hear something and have a question, give me a call. My personal cell number is 803-984-0126.

Thank you again for everything,

Michael Johnson