Committee hears ideas on how to help SC children, invites more input

Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 7:11 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolinians are bringing their ideas for how to make the state better for its children directly to the people with the power to enact change, who are hoping to gain more input in the coming weeks.

The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children is traveling around the state for its annual fall tour and is inviting South Carolinians to speak with them.

The panel, more commonly known as the Children’s Committee, is made up of a bipartisan group of six lawmakers — three from the state’s House of Representatives and three from the Senate — along with three citizens appointed by the governor and the heads of statewide agencies, including the Department of Mental Health, Department of Social Services, Department of Juvenile Justice, and Department of Education.

This year’s tour kicked off this week at the State House, with two hearings on Thursday.

“This is a great opportunity to participate in the policymaking,” Rep. Raye Felder, R – York and chair of the Children’s Committee, said.

In recent years, new laws to improve South Carolina’s adoption and fostering processes, put more regulations around vaping, and offer paid family leave to state employees and, recently, teachers have either resulted from the committee’s work or garnered the support of its members.

During the first of its 2023 fall hearings, the Children’s Committee heard hours of testimony in Columbia from South Carolinians, including parents, teachers, nonprofit organizers, pediatricians, and even students.

“It is necessary that we, as a state, take the necessary steps to repeal the diaper and period tax to alleviate the hardships of the most vulnerable members of our community,” Power In Changing - The Diaper Bank of the Midlands Executive Director Ayanna White said.

Among their requests were for legislation to strengthen school safety, to make it harder for kids to get their hands on guns, to make it easier for families to afford daycare and pre-K, and to provide free school meals for every student in the state.

“School systems provide one of the most streamlined and affordable levers to address food insecurity for families,” Emilee O’Brien of United Way of the Piedmont told the committee.

Others asked them to expand Medicaid, as the state has opted to not do in the past, or build on recent laws guaranteeing paid family leave for state employees and public school teachers and staff.

“Let’s look toward providing paid leave to all South Carolinians by exploring a state-level study committee to support the private sector,” Ashley Lidow of Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN) testified.

Felder, the committee’s chair, said getting this input from the public helps them better understand where their focus should be for the year ahead.

“Even if you don’t have an idea of what the solution may be, come and discuss the problem with us so then we can put all of us together on the committee, and we can talk about it and see if, indeed, there is a pathway to a solution to make life better for South Carolina citizens,” she said.

In the coming weeks, there will be more opportunities for South Carolinians to give their input as the committee prepares for the next legislative session, which starts in January.

Times/locations for remaining Children’s Committee 2023 Fall Hearings:

  • Greenville: Tuesday, Sept. 12 – Greenville City Council Chambers, Greenville City Hall (206 S. Main St.), 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
  • Florence: Thursday, Oct. 5 – Francis Marion University, Chapman Auditorium in Robert E. McNair Science Building (4800 Dr. Heyward Dr.), 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
  • North Charleston: Tuesday, Oct. 17 – Charleston County Council Chambers (4045 Bridge View Dr., North Charleston), 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.