A daily review of what’s making news in South Carolina state government.
“Mr. Speaker, I note by the clock above our head that it is five o’clock,” State Rep. Gary Clary, R-Clemson, said at the end of session Thursday. “I would make a motion that we adjourn sine die.”
“The House adjourns Sine Die. It is five o’clock,” Acting Speaker Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, responded, banging the gavel to signify the end of this year’s legislative session in the South Carolina House.
And with those words, legislators marked the conclusion of a shorter session in 2017. While lawmakers will return in two weeks to take up the budget and any potential vetoes from Gov. Henry McMaster, any legislation that did not pass both chambers before Thursday evening will have to wait until next year.
Traditionally the House and Senate meet until the end of May. However, legislators changed the law last year to cut two weeks out of the schedule. But House Speaker Jay Lucas said he did not think the shorter session meant less was accomplished.
“When we look back over the last four months and you see we were able to pass a comprehensive roads bill in year one… that’s certainly an outstanding accomplishment,” he told reporters Thursday.
Besides the measure to fund roads with an eventual 12 cents per-gallon gas tax increase, legislators this year also shored up the state’s troubled pension system by requiring higher contributions from state agencies and employees. Lawmakers also approved a pilot project for farmers to grow industrial hemp.
However more partisan bills which lacked bipartisan consensus, such as a measure allowing gun owners to openly carry without needing a state permit or another legalizing medical marijuana, remain on the calendar for next year’s session.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said he thought the shorter session meant less time for his chamber to stall on controversial bills. “I think we’ve been very productive this year,” he said. “In fact, this is probably one of the more productive years that I can remember. And I think it’s possible the shortened session put some additional pressure on people in order to move some things a little quicker.”
— Legislators pushed across dozens of bills on the final two days of session, including one which will require doctors to use a state database before they can prescribe new opioid medication. Medical practitioners are already encouraged to use the Prescription Monitoring Program database, but participation will be mandatory if the new legislation is approved by Gov. Henry McMaster. The House and Senate this week approved the measure in combined 134-5 votes.
— Lawmakers also sent to Gov. Henry McMaster is aimed at boosting highway worker safety. The Aiken Standard reports the Senate passed a measure that would stiffen penalties for drivers operating recklessly near highway workers and emergency personnel. The bill passed unanimously Thursday after gaining support when a driver killed two state Department of Transportation workers along a road outside North Augusta earlier this year.
— Another bill headed to Gov. McMaster would roll back a lottery system in place for bear hunting along the South Carolina coast, instead fully opening the season as long as hunters purchase bear tags. Lead sponsor State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, said the bear population is getting too large for the Grand Strand. Previously hunters in that region had to enter into a lottery drawing to obtain a bear hunting tag before a week-long hunting season in late October. Under the new rule,s the bear season has no calendar season and is only limited by a county quota set by DNR. Using the tag system, lowers the barrier to hunters aiming to harvest bear which would keep the population within the realm the DNR deems appropriate.
— Legislators also put tougher requirements on moped owners. One of the final bills approved on Thursday would require mopeds to be licensed and registered. They would also have to follow the same traffic laws as all other motor vehicles, despite a top speed of 35-40 miles per hour.
— The Senate put the brakes on a bill that would spell out a specific definition for anti-Semitism on state college campuses. The Charleston Post & Courier reports State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he wanted the bill to include actual language defining anti-Semitism within the text of the proposed law. Currently, the bill requires colleges use a U.S. State Department fact sheet for guidance. Supporters say the measure tries to include Judaism in university actions against hate speech. Opponents say it could be interpreted to squelch criticism of Israel.
— Reforms have stalled in the Senate that would address a state Supreme Court order telling lawmakers find ways to improve education in poor, rural schools. The State newspaper reports House Speaker Jay Lucas said Thursday passing those proposals must be a priority when lawmakers return to work in January. Lawmakers must report their progress toward improving the state’s public schools to the S.C. Supreme Court by June 30. The court has ordered lawmakers and schools to work together to fix problems that it identified in a 2014 order.
— The HouseSpeaker’s office is investigating a confrontation between two state representatives, The State newspaper reported. The Statehouse incident involved a heated argument between State Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, and Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg Democrats, over a proposed bill to combine all the schools in Orangeburg County into a single district. Few details were given of the confrontation, although Govan said he and Cobb-Hunter had no more than a disagreement.