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Tort reform, school funding among issues South Carolina lawmakers likely to face

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(The Center Square) — Tort reform, school funding and a push to expand Medicaid could be among the issues South Carolina lawmakers consider when they return to Columbia on Tuesday.

In an interview with The Center Square, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business said lawmakers should pass S.533, which he said would reduce excessive damage awards in civil cases.

In South Carolina, small and medium-sized companies might pay entire legal verdicts even if they were only partially at fault, a concept known as “joint and several” liability. The measure would move the state toward a model where a defendant is financially liable based upon their percentage of fault.

“That would fix what we feel are a lot of issues with how awards are given in lawsuits,” State Director Ben Homeyer told The Center Square. “If you are literally 1% at fault, you can be found to be liable for the entire accident.

“You are seeing businesses going out of business over a lawsuit,” Homeyer added. “They may not even be fully responsible for it — it could be that 1% — but because they are the deep pocket, then that is what somebody’s going after.”

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive budget, which he unveiled on Friday, includes $250 million for state aid to classrooms, $115 million for instructional materials, $95 million for Workforce Industry Needs Scholarships and $49.8 million to freeze tuition at the state’s higher education institutions.

“This Executive Budget also includes a $3 million appropriation directing the Education Oversight Committee, a nonpartisan committee composed of legislators, educators, and business representatives, to oversee a systemic review of our state’s 33 public institutions of higher education,” McMaster said in an announcement. “This study will address the sustainability, accessibility, and affordability, as well as provide an assessment of the need for consolidation of existing physical space, programs, certificates, and degrees offered at our public colleges and universities, as compared to the projected workforce needs of our state in the future.”

In its Roadmap to Reform, the S.C. Policy Council called on state leaders to “justify their entire budgets,” including requests for current and new spending, when submitting their annual spending plans to the state’s Executive Budget Office. It also called on lawmakers to follow the group’s S.C. Sustainable Budget initiative.

“In short, the SCSB sets a cap on annual budget appropriations based on state population growth plus inflation, a metric that generally conveys what the average taxpayer can afford to pay for government services,” the group said in a blog post. “The money saved by following a sustainable budget will make it far easier to cut taxes in the future.”

South Carolina Democrats will likely push for a Medicaid expansion. “Lack of access to healthcare is the biggest health issue facing South Carolinians,” South Carolina House Democrats said in a post to X, previously known as Twitter.

In a post to X, state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he was “making final edits” to an energy bill he plans to file on Tuesday. “Increasing baseload capacity and improving the resiliency of our state’s electrical grid are the critical objectives,” Davis said.