Plastic recycling, charter schools, abortion ban, more

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By Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent  | Should recycling discarded plastic using a heat process to make new materials have less state oversight South Carolina? 

A multi-state push by the American Chemistry Council seeks to re-classify recyclers of polymers using heat as “recovered materials,” facing fewer regulations and oversight than the current classification under “solid waste” with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. 

House Bill 4152 passed April 30 with a vote of 63-27. On Oct. 22, a Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee will take a crack at discussing the bill, which has alarmed environmentalists but has remained largely under the radar in South Carolina and other states, like Tennessee and Georgia, that have considered nearly word-for-word similar legislation. Advocates, such as House sponsor Rep. Bill Hixon, R-Aiken, say it would rid the state of a backlog of plastic waste and create jobs. 

Hixon told Statehouse Report that he and other lawmakers met with the American Chemistry Council on multiple occasions, where he learned about the process that is taking place at a plant in downtown Atlanta.

“Everybody is complaining about what are we going to do with plastics … It’s an endless supply of the plastics, and listening to these people we thought it was a very safe and easy way to keep the plastics out of the landfill and turn it into fuel,” Hixon said. “It would be a great industry in South Carolina to come here and start gobbling up all the plastics in the state.”

But others remain skeptical of the process, which some say could release heavy metals into the environment. 

S.C. Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, voted against the bill and spoke out about in the House floor in April. She said the bill is being pushed as being environmentally friendly, but that research shows the heating process used to break down polymers is potentially more dangerous for the environment than leaving the plastics in the landfill. 

“It’s something we should be concerned about; it should scare us in a way that a lot of legislators throughout South Carolina and the Southeast are not picking up on,” she said.

The Senate panel meets 2 p.m. Oct. 22 in room 308 of the Gressette building at the Statehouse in Columbia. Agenda

In other news: 

Charter school accountability update. An ad-hoc legislative committee will hear recommendations — including accountability measures — Oct. 21 to update a 20-year-old law that governs public charter schools in the state. 

Public charter school attendance has grown by 78 percent over the last four years. In the 2019-2020 school year, there are an estimated 32,701 students enrolled. The state has also seen its first higher-education sponsor for charter schools with Erskine College taking that role in 2017. 

Kayla Audette, an education associate in the Office of School Transformation for the S.C. Department of Education, told Statehouse Report that there wasn’t a single “catalyst” in working on the updates. For example, the law includes out-dated references to the federal No Child Left Behind law. But she added, “these updates would provide a little more enforcement.” 

“It will allow (the Department of Education) to hold everybody a little more accountable because right now statitorily we do not have that power,” Audette said. 

Awendaw charter school advocate Joe Bowers, director of operations of the S.C. Charter School Alliance, said the new recommendations will establish a minimum standard for accountability, provide minor updates to language to reflect changes in technology or other laws, and provide guidance for charter school closures so students are able to enroll in other schools.

“More strength and more accountability for everyone involved,” he said. 

The meeting is 1 p.m. Oct. 21 in room 433 of the Blatt building at the Statehouse in Columbia. See the agenda here

Abortion ban returns to Senate panel. A Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee will discuss banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.  The meeting is 10 a.m. Oct. 22 in room 308 of the Gressette building at the Statehouse in Columbia. See the agenda here

Senate education funding study committee meets. The Senate Education Funding Reform Study Committee will hold its first meeting 10 a.m. Oct. 23 in room 308 of the Gressette building at the Statehouse in Columbia. The committee will review the mechanics and methodology of the state’s education funding formula to determine what revisions and refinements are necessary to provide increased flexibility needed at the district level, while meeting the state’s objectives. See the agenda here

Interstate panel looks at widening projects. The Special Interstate subcommittee in the Senate met this week to review more than $1 billion in interstate widening projects. Read more

Mold remediation regulation mulled. State lawmakers are looking at drafting regulations of the mold remediation industry in South Carolina. Currently, no state agency regulates it. Read more.

Limehouse, Vick eye positions on PSC. Of the 21 announced candidates for Public Service Commission seats next year, two are ex-lawmakers: Charleston Republican Chip Limehouse, who served in the House 1994-2016; and Pawleys Island Democratic Ted Vick, who served in the House 2004-2014. Read more

2020 candidate calendar

Throughout the campaign season, we are working to keep South Carolina informed of candidate events in the state. Have an event you want us to know about? Email us at 2020news@statehousereport.com

Cookoff to host 3 Democratic presidential candidates.  The Betty Henderson Elected Officials Cook-off in Orangeburg will host U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, and billionaire investor Tom Steyer 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds. More info

Homecoming at S.C. State features Steyer, Harris. Investor Tom Steyer and California Sen. Kamala Harris will make an appearance at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 19 at S.C. State University’s homecoming. More info

Harris makes multiple stops this weekend. California Sen. Kamala Harris will host a town hall 4:45 p.m. Oct. 19 at Aiken High School in Aiken (more info), attend church services at 8 a.m. Oct. 20 at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia (no remarks will be given during the service), and talk shop 1:45 p.m. Oct. 20 at No Grease Barbershop in Columbia. 

Booker returns to South Carolina New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will attend a Conversation with Cory 9:30 a.m. Oct. 19 in Darlington County, a meet and greet at noon Oct. 19 at Nazareth AME Church in Johnsonville, a Conversation with Cory 2 p.m. Oct. 19 at The Beeson Building in Mullins, and another Conversation with Cory 5 p.m. in Georgetown County. More info

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