We are roughly halfway through the legislative session for the year and I am proud of our work in the House of Representatives to prioritize public safety and to protect and support the next generation. 

 In addition to passing the fen-  tanyl trafficking bill I discussed in this space last month, the House – with a bipartisan vote of 92-20 – recently passed a historic bond reform bill to stop the revolving jailhouse door to help make South Carolina a safer place to live and raise our families. 

The bill creates sentence and bond enhancements for a person convicted of a violent crime while out on bond for a previous violent crime. The legislation creates a sentence enhancement of a mandatory five years if a person is convicted of a violent crime while out on bond for a previous offense, and requires that any bond set for someone who commits a violent crime while out on bond for a previous offense must be a 100% cash bond.  

Parents must have the flexibility to make the best choice for their child’s education. South Carolina parents have been constrained from doing what’s best for their children for more than 100 years by a provision in our state Constitution known as the “Blaine Amendment.” 

The House passed a joint resolution calling for an amendment to the State Constitution to be presented on a statewide ballot in 2024 for voters to decide whether to repeal the Blaine language. The Blaine Amendment has prohibited the distribution of government funds to “sectarian” schools.  

The genesis of this constitutional language reflected the religious bigotry and prejudices in the late 1800s against immigrant Catholics and against newly freed enslaved people whose lives, living conditions and educational opportunities were being improved by religious missionary organizations.  

This restriction on the use of government funding was directly aimed to stop the Catholic Church from educating these freed people and immigrants. This relic of the past perpetuates injustice by blocking state funds to non-public schools that educate underserved and underprivileged children.  

The repeal will allow parents to make the best choices for their child’s education and help protect many state-funded programs such as S.C. Tuition Grants Program, LIFE Scholarship, Palmetto Fellows, the full-day 4k programs CERDEP/CDEPP and First Steps which could be vulnerable to a legal challenge under the Blaine Amendment.  

The House Ways and Means Committee wrapped up its weeks of hearings and has approved the preliminary 2023-2024 state budget.  The initial budget proposal, which is nearly $14 billion, is a starting point in the approval process and will be debated on the floor of the House during the week of March 13. As the budget works its way through the House to the Senate and Conference Committee, I will provide more information.  

Finally, I was proud to join virtually all of my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee in advancing the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act for consideration by the full House of Representatives. South Carolina is only one of two states in the country without a hate crimes law. I look forward to the House passing this bill again and hope the Senate this year will join the House in sending a strong message that we do not tolerate hate-based violent acts in the Palmetto State.  

Having this important legislation on the books will help our state remain the “beast of the east” in economic development.

It is an honor and privilege to represent Beaufort and Jasper counties in the House. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of assistance.  

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov