A new budget plan revealed in the South Carolina House on Thursday attempts to expand the number of armed officers in schools, via grants and a new incentive which tries to lure former law enforcement out of retirement.
House Republican leaders ultimately delayed a vote Thursday after Democrats complained members had not had a chance to read the 38-page amendment budget-writers introduced earlier in the day. Democratic lawmakers held up a vote on the first of a dozen amendments as they accused Republicans of railroading the plan through.
Budget committee chairman Brian White had proposed setting aside $2 million for grants to help those school districts which cannot afford their own school resource officers (SROs). The proposal appeared to be a concession to Gov. Henry McMaster, who included the money despite criticism that it would not come close to securing the nearly 600 public schools across South Carolina which do not have an armed officer on campus.
The plan also included a program which would allow former law enforcement officers to come out of retirement and work as SROs. New pension rules set to take effect this summer will bar public employees — including officers — from collecting retirement if they earn more than $10,000 in pay.
“This allows a classroom officer who retired before December 2017, who is still certified, to go back and be a school resource officer,” White said.
Other lawmakers such as State Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, questioned why the option was being offered to officers and not the estimated 3,300 teachers expected to retire over the summer as the pension changes take effect.
Also attracting controversy was $54 million newly set aside for a new State Law Enforcement Division forensics lab. The agency has sought the lab for years, but it was not included in the initial budget approved by the House in March. Budget-writers used extra funds which had been set aside to pay off existing state debt.
State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said the current SLED lab was built in the 1970s. “DNA was not even a science when the lab was built,” he said on the House floor. “It now takes up three entire sections of the current lab. They don’t have room to work anymore.”
But Democrats questioned if the expensive project was the best use of additional funds, given the public demand for increased school security and understaffed prisons.
“That’s $54 million that could go towards school resource officers, as well as corrections facilities,” King said. “$2 million (for SRO grants) does not even begin to put school resource officers in many of the schools around South Carolina.”
The proposed amendment would set aside $13 million in new funding for prison security measures.
House Republicans initially attempted to use their majority status to approve the amendment. However, they agreed to delay a vote until next week after a five-hour filibuster by Democrats. Republicans relented after a threat from King that Democrats would refuse to provide enough votes to pass a compromise House-Senate budget next month unless the GOP listened to their concerns now.