As we conclude the first month of this 125th General Assembly with more than 700 bills having been filed and assigned to their proper committee, the committees and subcommittees have been busy with the legislative process of receiving public testimony, discussing, amending, rejecting and/or sending legislation to floor of the House of Representatives for debate. 

The House Judiciary Committee, which I chair, is no exception. We spent the first few weeks of this new session welcoming new committee staff attorneys, organizing subcommittees, and advancing prioritized legislation from our Caucus Agenda. 

A few weeks ago I stood alongside the Speaker, the House Majority Leader and the other chairmen of standing committees outlining our 2023-2024 Legislative Agenda built on conservative reform in five areas including: Improving statewide economic development to ensure prosperity; reforming our education system so students are better prepared for the workforce; limit government by implementing fiscal discipline and responsibility; increase personal freedom and encourage conservative values and prioritize public safety and make law and order a top priority. 

We elaborated on and reiterated our commitment to increase teacher pay raises and school choice, to stop the revolving door of repeat offenders being let out on bond, and to address the fentanyl epidemic plaguing our state and nation. 

Public safety is the No. 1 responsibility of government at every level. As widely reported, China has found a conduit through Mexican criminal cartels who use our Southern border to flood America and South Carolina with fentanyl. 

Mixing fentanyl powder into illicit pills is a deadly combination. It is estimated that more than 1,100 South Carolinians died last year because of fentanyl and trafficking of fentanyl is increasing in record numbers. An amount of fentanyl equal to the size of an individual sugar packet would kill 100 people.

These overdose deaths remain a leading cause of injury-related deaths throughout the US. The House Judiciary Criminal Laws Subcommittee after receiving testimony from an overwhelming number of families, law enforcement agencies and local government leaders approved legislation that strengthened penalties for fentanyl crimes. 

The full Judiciary Committee strongly supported the legislation, and I was pleased to join 91 of my House colleagues last week in passing a strong fentanyl trafficking bill that takes an important step toward stopping the flow of this lethal drug into our state and that will protect our children. House Bill 3503 declares fentanyl a Schedule 1 drug and increases the penalties on dealers who sell it. 

This bipartisan bill provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and sends a strong message to drug dealers and those trafficking fentanyl that South Carolina will no longer tolerate their dangerous drug activity in the Palmetto State. I am hopeful the Senate moves quickly to make this legislation the law of our state. 

During the second week of February, the House took up a bill to address Critical Race Theory Teaching. The House Education Committee had passed legislation to ensure transparency and make it easier for parents to have input into their child’s curriculum. 

The committee’s work is an important step for a controversial bill that will go a long way toward ensuring that our public education system is fair and open, and where instruction is non-biased and fact based, especially in history and social studies.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Raye Felder, included language in the bill that clearly states: “Public school instruction should be non-biased and include the broad scope of history, both the inspirational history and the shameful history, of our great nation.”      

It is my honor and privilege to serve the citizens of SC House District 120. If I may be of service, please call on me. 

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.