Since I last contributed on this page, significant progress has been made on the COVID vaccination front, with approximately 1.5 million vaccines having been given to South Carolinians and most of the kinks in the distribution system worked out.

While COVID interrupted the legislative session last year and resulted in the hard decision to not pass a budget for new spending in 2020-2021, productivity this year has been impressive.

A few weeks ago we passed a supplemental appropriation bill giving teachers the annual salary adjustments based on experience and education level that would have been included in a budget last year.

This week, my House colleagues and I passed the South Carolina budget for 2021-22, which might be one of the most conservative budgets passed during my tenure. In short, this budget funds only necessary government services while recognizing that we are still in uncertain pandemic conditions. 

While state revenue is expected to go up (as COVID-19 cases continue to fall and more of our residents are vaccinated), we cannot rely on that quite yet, and as such must be prepared by being conservative with our state resources. After hours of debate and hundreds of votes, we passed a budget that prioritizes a renewed dedication to improving education, funding resources for law enforcement, expanding broadband internet access, fully funding the local government fund, and ensuring every school in the state has a full-time nurse on site.

Following a furlough week off, giving us all time to be back in our home districts and saving taxpayers more than $50,000, we will return to Columbia with important work to be done before the cross-over date, when legislation has to pass from the House to the Senate or the Senate to the House to be considered through the normal process this year.

Included in the tasks to be accomplished is passing a long overdue Hate Crimes Bill. As I have reported in the past, South Carolina is only one of three states in the country without such legislation, a statistic none of us should be proud of, and our business community has been persistent in urging the passage of this legislation.

I have had a front row seat for the legislative journey of this bill and have pushed it at every level of the process. I was assigned last summer by the Speaker to the Equitable Justice Ad Hoc Committee and tasked as the chair of the subcommittee dealing with hate crimes; and I am a primary sponsor. 

I am a strong advocate for this legislation and look forward to voting for it again on the House floor in the next few weeks. Additionally, we will be taking up in the Judiciary Committee a Senate bill that protects businesses operating in accordance with health guidelines from liability associated with COVID-19, helping us get South Carolina back to work. 

Finally, the week before the budget the House passed the first major Second Amendment legislation in more than 25 years. Forty-five other states in the U.S. have adopted firearm legislation similar to this bill, which allows open carry with training in addition to the current concealed carry permitting. This advancement is an excellent success for our state and for safeguarding our Second Amendment rights.

On the home front, the Newton household is abuzz with tuxedos and ball gowns in preparation for the high school prom. It is such a blessing that we are getting back to some level of normalcy. 

It is a privilege and honor to continue to serve the residents of District 120 in the House. If I can be of service, please do not hesitate to reach out to me here or in Columbia.

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