April 1, 2015

SC Big Story: Senate looks to close DUI loophole for mopeds

State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday (Image: SCETV)

State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday (Image: SCETV)

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.

A state Senate committee will take up legislation Wednesday morning that tries close a loophole which currently exempts moped drivers from South Carolina traffic laws, particularly DUI laws.

State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, said mopeds are not classified as “motor vehicles” under state statute, meaning they are not technically covered by laws against operating while drunk. “A person can be falling down drunk, then get on a moped and ride down Highway 17 in 5:00 traffic and be weaving all over the road and they cannot be arrested for DUI,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “That clearly was an unintended consequence when they were drafting previous versions of the moped definition.”

He said the loophole is particularly troubling since drivers who have lost their driver’s licenses due to previous DUI convictions are still allowed to operate mopeds.

The Senate Transportation Committee will consider the bill Wednesday, one day after a subcommittee advanced it from a Tuesday hearing. The measure cleared the House last month.

It’s one of a handful of bills that deal with mopeds, which are relatively unregulated in South Carolina compared to other powered vehicles. Similar bills being considered in the Statehouse would require a moped driver to have a license and carry insurance. Another that passed the House earlier this session would not allow mopeds on roads with a speed limit above 45 miles per hour. [Read more…]

Bill improving state’s anti-human trafficking efforts heads to governor

State Attorney General Alan Wilson (File)

State Attorney General Alan Wilson (File)

Legislation that would give prosecutors more power against human traffickers in South Carolina is now headed to the governor’s desk.

The Senate voted 37-0 Tuesday to approve the conference report for a bill that would give the State Grand Jury power to investigate human trafficking. The House also passed the report unanimously last week.

Previously, only local jurisdictions could handle trafficking cases, which the State Attorney General’s Office said often prevented prosecutors from building a case against those who illegally sell sex and labor across county lines. Attorney General Alan Wilson said he considered the bill a top priority.

“This is a major step forward to combat human trafficking in our own backyard,” Wilson said in a statement Tuesday. “Thanks to the authorization provided by this bill, human trafficking cases… are no longer restricted by local jurisdictional boundaries. The hunt for offenders can go anywhere in South Carolina where the investigation leads. Local law enforcement has told us, ‘they can’t stop finding human traffickers.’ Now, we have a much better chance of bringing them to justice.”

Wilson’s office oversees the State Grand Jury.

The bill is meant as a follow-up to a 2012 human trafficking law that also had overwhelming support from legislators. However, Wilson said the lack of statewide court, which he considers a loophole, made it difficult to go after large networks that operate in more than one county.

“These are boys and girls from South Carolina,” the bill’s sponsor State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg said before Tuesday’s vote. “A lot of them are runaways. This is very much needed,”

The state’s chief prosecutor says the bill would fix an oversight in the state’s 2012 anti-human-trafficking law. Wilson says the fix would mean human traffickers could no longer hide by scurrying from county to county.

Mental health courts bill has widespread Senate approval

Statehouse3South Carolina legislators are looking to expand a program designed to help mentally-ill suspects who commit nonviolent crimes.

Mental health courts are meant to handle those individuals with bipolar disorder or other illnesses ensure they get quick court appearances and the resulting treatment for the opportunity to have their charges dropped.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week. A final vote is needed, likely as soon as Tuesday, for the measure to advance to the House.

“It gives them the option to go through the court system and be treated,” the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness South Carolina Bill Lindsey said. “To go through a process to get them back into a productive mode of life instead of just being in jail.”

[Read more…]

SC Big Story: Competing roads bills now on House, Senate floors

Students from the Future Farmers of America tour the Statehouse grounds last week

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.

The House Ways & Means Committee advanced a roads funding bill Thursday, sending it to the House floor. The move came one day after the Senate Finance Committee did the same.

But both bills seek to raise money through very different means. And neither may be able to withstand a threatened veto from Gov. Nikki Haley, who has indicated she will not support increasing gas taxes without corresponding income tax relief.

The House version that headed to the floor Thursday tries to accommodate the governor by trimming the state’s 16 cent per-gallon gas tax and shifting it to a new sales tax paid for by wholesalers. In exchange, an income tax break (averaging $48 for the average filer) would be offered to offset any higher price at the pump. Budget analysts predict the proposal would bring in an additional $400 million each year.

[Read more…]

House approves Uber bill, but company concerned about proposed regulations

UberThe ridesharing app Uber would be permanently allowed to operate across South Carolina under a bill that cleared the state House Thursday.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives in a 96-13 vote on Wednesday, creates a new category of “transportation network companies” that would cover Uber and other similar companies. But Uber and its allies in the legislature had issues with the final draft, saying it treated the service too much like a cab company.

The state Public Service Commission is allowing Uber to operate through July after initially issuing cease-and-desist orders against the company. However, the stay is based upon lawmakers crafting new regulations that would cover the ridesharing company. Uber maintains it is not a taxi service but only uses a smartphone app to connect customers with potential drivers.

[Read more…]