South Carolina General Assembly ends 2024 Session with goodbyes and a flurry of bills

The South Carolina General Assembly met for what is expected to be the final day of the 2024 session Wednesday, taking up a flurry of bills and giving several lawmakers a chance to say goodbye.

Legislators sent to the governor’s desk a bill changing the way judges are screened before the General Assembly votes on them and overrode Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a bill that required the erasing of the records of people convicted of certain underage alcohol sales crimes.

They also let die a bill that would limit how topics like race can be taught in public school K-12 classrooms.

But before the flurry of legislative action, there were nearly a dozen goodbye speeches between the House and Senate from members who weren’t running for reelection, some who lost in primaries and one likely moving from the House to the Senate.

Goodbye speeches

The chief speech was from Democratic Sen. Nikki Setzler, who decided not to run for reelection after 48 years.

Setzler told stories of the Senate from times before a handful of current senators were born. There were debates that went on for days, budget fights that almost became literal fights and honorable men who laid the path of service and decency that Setzler hopes continues after he is gone.

Setzler, who remained a Democrat under the label of “a caring conservative” even as Republicans took over and now dominate the state, said letting South Carolina be run by moderates has helped the state grow and thrive over the past few decades.

“We run under a party label. But we represent people. We ought to vote for the people that we represent, not what some party tells us to,” Setzler said.

For now, Setzler is the longest serving state lawmaker in the country and set the record for the longest service ever in the South Carolina Senate. But he said after his last election win, he realized it was time to leave.

That thought was cemented when his friend, Sen. Hugh Leathermandied in office in 2021 at age 90 after 37 years in the upper chamber.

“I can’t reach that point where you can’t give it up,” said Setzler, who turns 79 in August.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey was a 1-year-old when Setzler first took his seat. The two grew close when they worked together to try to help the state get through the failure when the private utility South Carolina Electric & Gas and state-owned Santee Cooper poured billions of dollars into a nuclear power plant project that never generated a watt of power.

“He shows up. He pays attention. He’s smart. He works hard and he operates in good faith,” Massey said.

Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian also said goodbye. He said when he came to the Senate six years ago, he scoffed when a fellow senator called it hallowed ground. But he now realizes how important it is.

“This is hallowed ground. Things happen here that affect millions of people. Some good, some bad,” Harpootlian said.

Lots of bills

Both chambers approved the state’s $14.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts Monday. It accelerates a planned income tax cut, raises the salaries of all teachers and state employees and spends $500 million to fix more roads and repair bridges across the state.

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