COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Here is the text as prepared of South Carolina Sen. Ronnie Sabb of Greeleyville giving the Democratic response to Gov. Henry McMaster’s State of the State address Wednesday:
Good evening. I’m Senator Ronnie Sabb from Greeleyville, South Carolina, where I proudly represent the people of District 32 and serve as the Assistant Minority Leader. Moments ago, we listened to our Governor, the Honorable Henry Dargan McMaster, deliver the State of the State Address. We look forward to working with him and our Republican colleagues to help South Carolinians build and maintain safe and prosperous lives.
The Governor mentioned many exciting initiatives in his address. 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. But let’s be clear– many of these investments are made possible because of the passage of the federal infrastructure bill under President Joe Biden. This is an example of our federal and state government working together to accomplish great things that benefit everyone.
Democrats welcome the Governor and our republican colleagues to the ongoing fight to stabilize college tuition costs. We must make higher education in South Carolina more accessible without our children being saddled with enormous student loan debt.
Opening the door to college for more students will help remedy the massive teacher shortage our state is facing. 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. 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.
Democrats have been fighting for teachers for a long time. Democratic legislators like Senator Darrel Jackson of Richland County, and Representative Gilda Cobb Hunter of Orangeburg County have been tireless advocates for decades. What a relief it is to begin this new legislative year knowing that, finally, Republicans are joining that fight.
As newly elected leadership takes on the task of overseeing our public schools, I’d like to take a moment to thank our former State Superintendent of Education, Molly Spearman. Molly, we didn’t agree on everything, but we worked together well for the children of our state.
Over the last two years, the General Assembly invested heavily in school facility repair. But in South Carolina we still have two categories of school districts: the “haves” and the “have nots”. The “have nots” are mostly rural districts, which still struggle to build new schools, fix existing buildings, and provide a better and safer education for their students. 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.
With this funding, our State Superintendent and school districts would be able to plan better for growth and change. Education is our greatest weapon against poverty. We owe it to all of our children to give them a fair shot. Governor, we ask you to support Senator Thomas McElveen and help us pass the Education Bank Act to build better schools.
I say to our Governor and my Republican colleagues - join Democrats in our efforts to provide better mental health care in South Carolina. Our state services and programs for those facing mental illness are shrinking. The Bull Street facility which once served them is closed. It is time to act. We must find new ways to provide health care for our most vulnerable. 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. This is a statewide tragedy, but it can be remedied. Governor, join us, let’s pass the Mental Health Treatment Act.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Governor’s prayer service. It was an excellent service. Excellent sermon. One of the points Reverend Dr. Derek Thomas made was and I quote, “Good government should encourage good and discourage evil.” Simple but true words. And that is why South Carolina needs to pass hate crime legislation.
Folks, South Carolina and Wyoming are the only states in the US that do not have a hate crime bill. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we recently celebrated on the State House grounds, was an extraordinary observer of our country’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential for good. He understood the corrosive power of hate. He knew hate needed to be called out in order for it to be eradicated. Failing to call hate out in his words is when “Silence becomes betrayal.” 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.
New industries and jobs are coming, so it’s important our focus remains on supporting ways to keep our economy growing and healthy. But a person working 40 hours a week should not be living in poverty. Join us in increasing our state’s minimum wage. Our economy should work fairly for those from the top on down.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Republican leadership in the South Carolina Legislature has made it clear that two issues will be taken up, the debate of which will significantly impact how we live in our state.
Your elected officials will debate over women’s right to health care, and spending tax dollars for private purposes. Both of these issues challenge how we currently view personal rights in our state. But yet again, we will see a renewed effort by factions of Republican legislators to actually strip your liberties away. Inevitably, we will revisit the issue of a woman’s right to choose. 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. Women have a fundamental right to control their own bodies. Any decision they make is between them and their doctor– not a group of male politicians sitting in judgment in Columbia. We trust South Carolinians and hope you do too. This issue should be placed on the ballot for a referendum vote which will allow all South Carolinians to decide this issue.
The other issue is that efforts are already underway to require taxpayers to foot the bill for private education tuition in South Carolina. Democrats do not support this plan and have fought against it since Governor Mark Sanford first proposed it many years ago. First, this proposed legislation is simply not constitutional. And second, it is a disservice to the hard working citizens of our state. Republicans will dress up their public funds for private schools plan in many disguises to try and win public support. But ultimately, taking money from hard working families and giving it to private, for profit schools is wrong. There is no right way to do this wrong thing.
Let me conclude by saying that the process of governing is not reserved to politicians. Governing is a joint process involving all citizens and their elected officials both democrats and republicans. It is a partnership. That’s why I want to encourage everyone to make their voices heard as we work, debate and pass legislation in 2023. We need to hear from you.
I like many of you watching grew up - Po. I tell folks that I have come from the outhouse to the State House. That we lived in a house that had a skylight before skylights became popular– our tin roof with holes in it. That we could tell whether chickens were underneath our house not because they cackled, but because we could see them through the cracks in our wooden floors. Thanks to the love of family and good neighbors, along with the sacrifices of those in the struggle during the civil rights era, this country boy from Greeleyville is addressing you tonight.
The struggle continues. Different issues for a different time– a time such as this. We must ensure that future generations of our children are afforded the opportunity for a prosperous future just as I was. So let us march on until victory is won. Victory for every South Carolinian is simply to have a fair shot at success.
Thank you for listening and May God Bless you and the Great State of South Carolina.