Session has come to an end. The South Carolina Constitution states that the legislature may be in session from the second Tuesday in January until the second Thursday in May at 5:00 pm. At exactly 5:00 pm on May 12th the gavel banged down, and this session ended. The House and the Senate did pass a Sine Die Resolution which allows us to return to handle the budget, Governor vetoes, conference committees, and deal with issues related to the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs. The Senate will return to Columbia on June 15th and June 28th to address issues under the Sine Die Resolution. Much was accomplished over the past year, yet much was not addressed and will have to be tackled in the future.

As always, 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.

Constituent Breakfast:

As summer has begun, I am will not be holding a Constituent Breakfast until August. I will put out at least one (maybe two) Newsletters depending on how much activity there is in the legislature between now and August. I hope you have a safe and fun summer.

Memorial Day Message:

As we approach Memorial Day on Monday, many of us will think of the official start of summer; schools concluding; hamburgers and hotdogs; swimming pools; and summer vacations. Between now and Monday, I hope that you will pause to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation so that we can enjoy the freedoms and the blessings that we have in the United States. We are so fortunate to live in the United States, and owe our continuing thanks to those who gave all in the line of duty and to their families they left behind. We must never forget that freedom is not free.

On Saturday, May 28th, I will be speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Buford Battleground (262 Rocky River Rd, Lancaster) a/k/a the Buford Massacre Site at 11:30. Please attend if you have the opportunity.

Week in Review: May 9 - May 13, 2022:

These are some of the bills that passed third reading in the Senate during the law week of session and were either sent to the House for approval or sent to the Governor to become law (click on the link to see the text of the bill):

S.108 - Election Integrity Act: After much back and forth, the House and the Senate finally came to a compromise as it relates to changing our election laws. As you may recall from a prior Newsletter, the Senate initially passed legislation giving us the ability to give advice and consent to the Election Director and all Election Commission members. The House and the Governor objected to that language. I, along with eight other Senators, proposed a compromise that would give the Senate advice and consent as to the Election Director, but not the Commission. That compromise was initially rejected, but it became the heart of the final bill as the Senate will now have advice and consent on the Election Director.

The final bill requires the Election Director to be reappointed every four years - which increases the Senate's oversight over elections. South Carolinians will be able to vote for two weeks prior to the election (in person), Monday-Saturday between the hours of 8:30 am - 6:00 pm. The County Boards of Voter Registration may choose up to seven sites for early voting centers throughout their counties.

The bill eliminates fusion candidates (someone running as a Democrat and the Green Party or the Republican and Libertarian Party for instance). Witnesses to absentee ballots must be at least 18 years old, and their names must appear on the outer envelope. Absentee ballot applications must also include the last four digits of a voter's social security number. Qualified electors may vote absentee under limited circumstances which includes sickness, disability, outside county of residence on election day, and other limited circumstances. By increasing the ability to vote early, we intentionally reduced the reasons for someone to vote absentee (i.e. by mail).

Additionally, the Election Director must conduct a voter registration list maintenance program on a yearly basis. This will allow the removal of person not eligible to vote from the voter rolls. To ensure the accuracy and integrity of election results, the State Election Commission (SEC) must establish methods of auditing election results which may include risk-limiting audits, hand-count audits, and other verification through independent vendors. Once completed, the audit reports must be made publicly accessible by being published on the commission’s website. The SEC must not accept any funds, grants, or gifts from any source other than appropriations made by the State or federal government for conducting elections. It is now unlawful to violate state election law including, but not limited to, procuring the registration of a name on the registration books; offer or attempt to vote a name not your own; vote more than once in an election for the same office; impersonate another person for voting purposes; or an election official that willfully violates the duties of their position. If convicted, the person will be subject to a fine of not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000 and may be imprisoned up to five years. I voted in favor and the Governor has signed this legislation in to law.

H.4776 - Medical Ethics and Diversity Act: This bill gives a health care provider the right of conscience in determining whether to provide medical services. In essence, it will allow a medical provider to refuse to perform a procedure that the person finds religiously, morally or ethically violates their beliefs. It also stops a hospital or health care institution from retaliating against the medical provider for doing so. The bill specifically exempts occasions where a medical emergency exists - in those cases the physician must provide medical care regardless of their beliefs. The Senate non-concurred with this legislation forcing it to a Conference Committee for final approval (the Senate had made amendments that the House changed). The Conference Committee meetings should happen before June 15th when the legislature reconvenes. I, along with every member of the Senate, voted to non-concur.

H.3166 - Rena Grant Sickle Cell Disease Voluntary Patient Registry Act: Much like previous acts dealing with other diseases, this creates a voluntary patient registry for people with Sickle Cell disease to share their diagnosis and treatments with DHEC. That information will be used for medical research on this disease. This passed both the House and the Senate and is awaiting approval by the Governor. I voted in favor.

H.3247 - Military Retirement Income. South Carolina income taxes will not apply to military retirement income. This exemption reflects our commitment to veteran's and their families. I voted in favor. This bill has been signed in to law by the Governor.

H.3291 - Notice of Trespassing: This bill is called the purple paint bill in the Senate. It simply states that a land owner can mark trees with purple paint. By doing so the land owner is placing you on notice that you are on private property and may not trespass. I voted in favor. This bill passed by the House and the Senate and has been signed in to law by the Governor.

H.3006 - Lunch Debts: This will stop public schools and public school districts from using debt collection agencies to collect outstanding debts for school lunches. I voted in favor and the Governor has signed this in to law.

H.3795 – Sign Language Interpreters: This will require standards, and a specific level of competence for sign language interpreters to be used by certain entities of state government, public schools, and hospital systems. A person may only provide interpreting services for an agency or hospital if they hold a recognized certification in sign language interpretation as approved by the South Carolina Association of the Deaf, South Carolina Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, or the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. This does not apply in an emergency situation where parties deem delay is likely to cause injury or loss, or as part of supervised internship or mentorship in which an interpreter with a recognized certification is present. Interpreters working with public schools must be required to submit to the same background check requirements as educators consisted with regulations of the State Board of Education. I voted in favor and the Governor has signed this in to law.

The End of Session:

The legislative session lasts for two years in South Carolina. That is the term of a House member (a Senator serves four years). Once session ends, all bills that are still pending end with it. They will all have to be refiled at the beginning of the new session in January 2023. When January comes, the legislature will look very different - specifically on the House side.

Jay Lucas, the Speaker of the House, announced his retirement several weeks ago and as of May 12th at 5:01 pm, Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) became the new Speaker. Speaker Smith had served as the Chairman of Ways and Means which means a new Chair will have to be elected at some point in the future (Rep. Gary Simrill (R-York) is currently the interim Chair of Ways and Means). I would not be surprised to see numerous changes to House leadership and committee appointments as the new Speaker begins his term next year.

On the Senate side, we now approach the final two years before our re-election bids (in 2024). It is my sincere hope that the Senate will tackle property tax reform, pension reform, and make changes to the way our schools operate. I will spend most of the summer working at my law office, but will spend a considerable amount of time preparing legislation that I intend to file for our return in January. If you have an issue that you feel passionately about, and would like me to file legislation on that subject, please reach out to me so we can meet and discuss.

Once the legislature has finished the budget and wrapped up the year, I will send out an overview of what we accomplished over the past year.

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