July 27, 2015

Flag’s future now in the hands of the SC House

A bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds cleared the state Senate Tuesday. The vote means the flag’s future is now up to the House of Representatives.

The Senate gave final approval to remove the flag Tuesday by a 36-3 vote, sending the bill to the House. Hours later, the House voted 93-18 to take up the bill on the floor without going through the normal committee process.

However, at least one flag supporter State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, has already threatened to file dozens of amendments in an effort to grind debate to a halt. House leaders believe they have the support needed to invoke cloture if needed and halt any new amendments, but that would not address those amendments already filed. Supporters and opponents would have three minutes to speak on each amendment if cloture is invoked.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said Democrats want a “clean” flag bill, meaning they want nothing to replace it. “We don’t want another symbol of the Confederacy, another symbol of hatred and racism, that they simply allow South Carolina to move forward,” Rutherford said during a press conference with other House Democrats before Tuesday’s Senate vote.

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Senate gives key approval to Confederate flag’s move from Statehouse

State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, holds up a book containing the names of SC's Civil War dead during Monday's debate (Image: SCETV)

State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, holds up a book containing the names of SC’s Civil War dead during Monday’s debate (Image: SCETV)

Senators gave key approval Monday to removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in an overwhelming 37-3 vote, the first step in what will be several expected roll-calls this week.

Another procedural two-thirds vote would be needed, likely on Tuesday, to send the bill over to the House of Representatives.

The debate on Monday was often emotional, but never heated or contentious. Supporters shot down amendments filed by supporters of the flag that would have replaced the flag with the first Confederate national flag and held a public referendum on the flag’s future. One amendment was narrowly defeated 22-17 that would have kept the flagpole in place and raised the battle flag once a year for Confederate Memorial Day.

While opponents insisted it was wrong to link the two, supporters left little doubt that the vote was in response to the Emanuel AME Church shootings in Charleston nearly three weeks earlier. A white supremacist killed nine African-Americans during a Bible study on June 17, for reasons police say were race-related.

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Statehouse debate on Confederate battle flag’s future to start today

Flag and MonumentState senators are expected to begin debating the Confederate battle flag’s future when they return to Columbia Monday.

A bill at the top of the Senate agenda would remove the flag located behind the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the Capitol grounds and instead retire it to the state Confederate Relic Room and Museum.

There has been overwhelming support from legislators to this point, even as South Carolina’s citizens remain divided. Indeed, the General Assembly is taking an unprecedented step by addressing the flag during a special summer session.

Supporters are hoping the bill heads to the governor by the end of the week, but they warn that is a best-case scenario. “People have got realize that we are bound by a constitutional process,” State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg said, although he supports removing the flag. “There’s just not a way under the current rules, and under our (state) Constitution, really that it could be done any quicker than by Thursday.” [Read more…]

South Carolina Chamber of Commerce joins call for flag removal

 Confederate battle flag at Confederate Veterans Memorial on Statehouse grounds in Columbia. South Carolina Radio Network photo.

Confederate battle flag at Confederate Soldiers Monument on Statehouse grounds in Columbia. South Carolina Radio Network photo.

As South Carolina’s state legislature gets ready to start debate on taking down the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds, leaders of the state’s largest business groups have said they support Governor Nikki Haley’s call for action. That now includes the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

President and CEO Ted Pitts, told South Carolina Radio Network it makes sense to take the flag down. “From a business perspective removing the flag from Statehouse grounds will help support investment, job creation and opportunities in the state.”

Pitts said that, from 1999-2000, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce helped lead the effort to remove the Confederate naval jack from the Statehouse dome and place it in its present location. The business community got involved then for the same reason the Chamber supports the call for action today, he said: It is the right thing to do for the state and its people.

While Pitts only became president of the chamber in December (he was previously Haley’s chief of staff), he said the group did not previously comment on the flag publicly until after a Charleston AME church shooting that police say was motivated by race.

“The business community felt like (the 2000 compromise) was a good step and… it was what our political leaders could agree to at that time,” he said, calling the shooting’s aftermath an opportunity. “I don’t believe that they thought at that time the issue was done with forever… and the business community sees now is the time to a place of honor and off the Statehouse grounds.”

There are two minor boycotts on South Carolina as a result of the flag’s presence. The college sports association NCAA does not allow South Carolina locations to host predetermined postseason tournaments (unless it is a situation where the higher-ranking team acts as host) and the NAACP has maintained an active boycott of the state ever since the 2000 compromise.

Pitts said taking down the flag is good for business for several reasons. “It enhances tourism opportunities in South Carolina. One of the largest industries in our state is tourism and removing the flag from Statehouse grounds helps enhance those opportunities.”

“The business community sees now as the time to remove the flag,” Pitts said. He said taking it down will improve the state’s perception. “It would move all of South Carolina’s businesses forward. And it looks forward and not the past.”

The state Senate is scheduled to start debate when they return on Monday.

State senator who supports Confederate flag says he doesn’t plan filibuster

State Sen. Lee Bright (Image: SCETV)

State Sen. Lee Bright (Image: SCETV)

As the American Civil War neared an end in early 1865, Confederate soldiers fought defensive actions against General Sherman’s Union troops in South Carolina. The outnumbered Confederates by that time knew they would be on the losing side when the war was over, but hoped to delay the ending as long as possible.

The handful of state lawmakers who are defending the Confederate battle flag at South Carolina’s Statehouse 150 years later seemingly find themselves in similar position. Recent work by the Charleston Post & Courier found more than two-thirds of state legislators have publicly indicated they would vote to remove the flag when lawmakers return to special session next week. Gov. Nikki Haley has called for the flag’s removal, as have almost all of South Carolina college presidents, chambers of commerce, and even the mayors of its largest cities Columbia and Charleston.

Seemingly resigned to defeat, flag supporters like State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, say they have no plans to block the vote through filibuster.

“We’re in special session. So if I went up there for three, four days… the net result would be the same,” Bright told South Carolina Radio Network. “If I could stall it for weeks, I believe we could change things. But only being able to stall it for a day or so, I don’t anticipate it changing.”

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