COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – A new legislative session began Tuesday at the South Carolina State House.

We heard from House and Senate leadership this week about their priorities in 2023.

House Speaker Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) will serve his first full term as speaker. He told reporters Tuesday that economic development, education, and public safety are some of his top priorities for the body.

According to Smith, they’ll focus on issues important to South Carolinians. “My first and foremost priority is taking care of the citizens of South Carolina and making sure we’re making improvements to the state from an economic perspective and a quality of life perspective.”

He says he expects legislation dealing with fentanyl to be some of the first bills the House debates on the floor. “It has been an epidemic throughout the whole state and nation. It’s time for our laws to treat those just as tough as other drugs,” he said.

Speaker Smith said he expects pay increases for teachers, state employees, and law enforcement in this year’s budget.

House Minority Leader Representative Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) said education and economic development issues are at the top of the House Democrats’ agenda. “We have to make sure we take care of our economic development priorities. South Carolina has done well. We have to keep that going and to do that we must fund public education,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford said he’s concerned the session could be dominated by the abortion debate. Up until last week, it was unclear how much time state lawmakers would spend on abortion in 2023.

That changed with the South Carolina Supreme Court striking down the state’s six-week abortion ban. Lawmakers say they’re still evaluating the ruling and their next steps.

Rep. Rutherford said, “It is unfortunate we will see a flurry of activity to take away what’s been deemed a constitutional right for a woman with her own body.”

Speaker Smith said, “We’re going to evaluate all options but you will not see us rush. You will see us find and settle on a process that is compliant with the law and protects life in South Carolina.”