Time runs out for many bills in South Carolina legislature
By CHRISTINA L. MYERS
Apr. 10, 2018
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Time ran out Tuesday for new potential laws in South Carolina as a key crossover deadline passed, likely dooming bills that would increase penalties for texting while driving, extend time for gun background checks and allow for medical marijuana use.
Bills that don't pass either the House or Senate before the deadline must get two-thirds support to be considered by the other chamber, which is quite difficult for proposals that are at all controversial. And this is the second year of the session, so bills that don't pass will have to start over again in January.
A surprise loser on crossover deadline was a solar energy bill that would have eliminated a cap on the amount of energy that can be created by solar panels.
The bill passed a key second-reading vote last week in the House, but House lawmakers on Tuesday agreed with opponents that it involved a property-tax increase, which would require approval by two-thirds of the chamber. That hurdle was too high: Tuesday's 61-44 vote fell short by nine votes.
Before the vote, Rep. James Smith said opponents were killing jobs and hurting the environment.
"If there were ever a vote where you're responsible for 3,000 jobs in South Carolina and an industry, it's this vote," said Smith, a Democrat from Columbia who is running for governor.
The legislative session was shortened by a few weeks two years ago, and fewer days of debate, combined with complex issues this year such as the failed nuclear plants and the budget, meant fewer bills passed, some lawmakers said.
"Now we're seeing the results of our own mistakes," said Sen. John Scott, also a Democrat from Columbia.
Some other bills that failed to make the crossover deadline:
Gov. Henry McMaster backed a bill requiring cities to file an annual report to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division saying that they had followed immigration laws.
"We want people to come here who want to be here and we want them to go through the process and do it legally," Greenville Republican Rep. Bruce Bannister said.
Critics of the sanctuary-cities bill said members of law enforcement have other responsibilities, and they said the bill was unnecessary, given that there are no so-called sanctuary cities in South Carolina.
"We all came here whether voluntarily or otherwise from some other place and once we recognize that, I believe hopefully we'll stop acting like this country only belongs to people who are here now," said Orangeburg Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter.
A bill pending in the Senate to partially close the "Charleston Loophole" and extend background checks from three to five days also missed the deadline.
The bill was named after Dylann Roof, who fatally shot nine black parishioners in a racially motivated attack at a Charleston church in 2015. Roof was able to legally buy his gun after three days even though his background check was not complete.
"If we can't spend the necessary time and make the issue of safety in our committees and schools a priority, just as we've done with big-business bills, then shame on South Carolina," said one of the chief sponsors, Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat whose district includes the Emanuel AME church where the shooting happened.
The legislation provided protection from law enforcement for patients and caregivers who were found in possession of less than 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said the bill's failure shows the shorter session does not work.
"It is disappointing ... for all those people that are hurting, for all those people that need compassion (who) are not going to see it this year simply because of scheduling," the Columbia Democrat said.
A bill strengthening penalties for people who threaten to hurt or kill anyone in a school was also a victim of bad timing, said its sponsor, Sen. Sandy Senn.
"I don't think that anybody can deny this bill is very good for our public-school students, those who might be in the way of a threat or those who are considering making a threat," the Charleston Republican said.