Democrats push for education, social justice in response to SC State of the State address

Jeffrey Collins/AP

Democrats say education, a livable wage and abortion rights are top issues following South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s State of the State address Wednesday evening.

In remarks delivered by Sen. Ronnie Sabb, D-Williamsburg, Sabb said that while Democrat’s support the governor’s initiatives, they’re fighting for objectives in K-12 and higher education, health care, social justice and employment compensation.

“The governor mentioned many exciting initiatives in his address,” Sabb said. “Democrats support the plans to improve our state’s roads and bridges, expand sewer and water services, and make broadband accessible to all South Carolinians.”

In addressing South Carolina’s increasing teacher shortage, Sabb pointed out the rising costs in college tuition.

“Opening the door to college for more students will help remedy the massive teacher shortage our state is facing,” he said. “Democrats have long supported increasing teacher pay, and it has never been a secret that one of the reasons it is so hard to attract and retain teachers in South Carolina is because our salaries are simply not competitive.”

The 2022-23 school year in South Carolina began with around 1,500 teacher vacancies, according to data from a recent South Carolina Chamber of Commerce survey. And 55% of business leaders said that low teacher pay was the leading cause of turnover.

“Increasing salaries will give our current teachers a fair and livable wage, draw in new talent, and encourage the next generation of bright minds to enter this vital profession,” Sabb said.

Sabb also called attention to the physical condition of schools around the state, calling for more state money to help renovate schools, especially in rural areas.

“To ensure that students, no matter their ZIP code, have the opportunity to attend modern and safe schools, we need a recurring stream of state revenue dedicated to funding new facilities and making upgrades to outdated schools,” he said.

Mental health and social justice

Looking to the needs of homeless South Carolina residents who lack access to health care, Sabb urged the governor to support mental health legislation.

“We must find new ways to provide health care for our most vulnerable,” Sabb said. “All too often, these South Carolinians find themselves homeless and end up in jail rather than in treatment. We have turned our backs on our neighbors.”

Following a recent revelation that the the S.C. Chamber of Commerce has expressly dropped its support for hate crime legislation, Sabb added that government should “encourage good and discourage evil.”

“Governor, we invite you to add your voice to ours and be a part of good government — one that discourages evil. Governor McMaster, let’s pass hate crime legislation.”

Livable wage and women’s rights

Despite the largest personal income tax in South Carolina’s history last year, Democrats, Sabb said, are still driving for a more livable wage, while protecting a women’s right to choose whether she has an abortion.

Currently, the minimum wage in South Carolina is $7.25, which Sabb says still leaves some people working full-time and grappling with poverty.

“New industries and jobs are coming, so it’s important our focus remains on supporting ways to keep our economy growing and healthy,” he said. “But a person working 40 hours a week should not be living in poverty.”

And following a controversial S.C. Supreme Court decision to protect a woman’s right to privacy in its 3-2 ruling over the state’s six-week abortion ban, Sabb said voters should be allowed to weigh in on the issue by a referendum vote.

“Our state Supreme Court has acknowledged that a woman has a constitutional right to privacy, and has struck down the repeated attacks from Republicans seeking to limit a woman’s access to health care during pregnancy,” he said. “Women have a fundamental right to control their own bodies.”

Call for collaboration

In concluding his response, Sabb called for bipartisanship this legislative session as lawmakers seek to pass a series of hot-button issues.

“Governing is a joint process involving all citizens and their elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans. It is a partnership,” he said. “That’s why I want to encourage everyone to make their voices heard as we work, debate and pass legislation in 2023.”