State lawmakers eye Richland election fix

jself@thestate.com ashain@thestate.comDecember 10, 2013 

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com

  • Pre-filed bills Lawmakers in the House and Senate pre-filed bills on Tuesday, ahead of the General Assembly’s return to Columbia in January. The proposals would:

    •  Restore a state program that clears new hospitals to open or expand. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed money for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s “certificate of need program” earlier this year. DHEC chief Catherine Templeton decided that without money to pay for the program, that agency would not enforce it. In response, hospitals and nursing homes are suing DHEC in the state Supreme Court. (Main sponsor: Sen. Joel Louie, D-Richland)

    •  Toughen penalties for people who commit crimes while released on bond and awaiting trial for other criminal charges. The bill would allow up to 40 percent of the maximum allowable sentence for a crime to be added to a sentence when the crime was committed while on bond. (Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter)

    •  Create a Department of Child and Family Services with the consolidation of the child protection and adoption units from the state departments of Social Services and Juvenile Justice, Continuum of Care for Emotionally Disturbed Children Division of the Office of the Governor, and the Division of Children, Adolescents and Families of the Department of Mental Health. (Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester)

    •  Require people between 15 and 20 years old who have never held a driver’s license to take a driver-training course; anyone age 21 or older would have to complete an eight-hour defensive driving course. (Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield)

    •  Increase the age that a child must be secured in a passenger-restraint system to 7 years old from 5 and prohibit a child from sitting in the front passenger seat until 12 years old, instead of 5. (Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee.)

    •  Allow police to administer breath tests for alcohol and drugs to drivers arrested after an accident where another person was injured badly or killed. (Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken)

    •  Allow S.C. public-college students to pay a percentage of their income after graduating rather than pay tuition while enrolled. (Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston)

    •  Require school districts to include on their websites forms that students can complete anonymously to report bullying. (Limehouse)

    •  Set the state minimum wage at $10 an hour or the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater. (Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg)

    •  Require middle and high school athletes to receive an electrocardiogram during their physical exams. (Cobb-Hunter)

    •  Bar legislators from voting for judges if they represent clients in any state court and senators could not appear as an attorney before a magistrate they recommended to the governor for appointment. (Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington)

    •  Allow naming state buildings, roads, bridges, interchanges or intersections for elected or appointed officials only after they have been dead for at least five years. (Shealy)

    Establish rules for homeowners associations, including registering with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs, conducting open meetings, preparing annual financial reports and holding hearings over potential violations. (Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland)

— Online

Richland County’s state lawmakers have pre-filed legislation to shift oversight of elections to the counties that pay for them.

The bills come as Richland County’s lawmakers work to address problems that led to the 2012 election debacle, where mismanagement and long lines at the polls produced one of the biggest election disasters in state history.

Now, Richland County’s legislative delegation names the board members who oversee elections and voter registration, said state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, a sponsor of the legislation in the House. The counties that pay for elections should have that authority if they want it, he said.

“The people of Richland County would be best served by a level of government that regularly meets and provides oversight and funding (of elections),” Smith said.

“It’s a solid stab at good government, better government, to devolve these responsibilities to County Council,” he said.

Bills, filed in the House and Senate, would give county governments the option of taking on the responsibility of appointing elections board members as long as a county’s legislative delegation agrees to transfer that authority.

The proposals also would allow counties to merge their voter registration and elections operations in a way that supporters say would avoid courts calling that combination “unconstitutional.”

Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, a sponsor of the Senate bill, said the legislative fix is necessary after a Circuit Court judge said a 2011 state law merging Richland County’s elections and voter registration operations was unconstitutional.

The General Assembly began merging counties’ voter registration and elections boards in the 1970s through county-specific acts. But the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that legislation applying to single counties is unconstitutional.

In 2008, the General Assembly passed legislation codifying the previous mergers into state law. Since then, however, the General Assembly has used single-county acts to merge voter registration and elections operations in Richland and Clarendon counties.

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said the legislation is a step toward improving elections, which should operate like any other county agency.

Under the current system, he said, the legislative delegation appoints volunteers to elections boards, “and then the volunteer board members are responsible for running a very important function of government.”

Pre-filed bills

Lawmakers in the House and Senate pre-filed bills on Tuesday, ahead of the General Assembly’s return to Columbia in January. The proposals would:

Restore a state program that clears new hospitals to open or expand. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed money for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s “certificate of need program” earlier this year. DHEC chief Catherine Templeton decided that without money to pay for the program, that agency would not enforce it. In response, hospitals and nursing homes are suing DHEC in the state Supreme Court. (Main sponsor: Sen. Joel Louie, D-Richland)

Toughen penalties for people who commit crimes while released on bond and awaiting trial for other criminal charges. The bill would allow up to 40 percent of the maximum allowable sentence for a crime to be added to a sentence when the crime was committed while on bond. (Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter)

Create a Department of Child and Family Services with the consolidation of the child protection and adoption units from the state departments of Social Services and Juvenile Justice, Continuum of Care for Emotionally Disturbed Children Division of the Office of the Governor, and the Division of Children, Adolescents and Families of the Department of Mental Health. (Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester)

Require people between 15 and 20 years old who have never held a driver’s license to take a driver-training course; anyone age 21 or older would have to complete an eight-hour defensive driving course. (Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield)

Increase the age that a child must be secured in a passenger-restraint system to 7 years old from 5 and prohibit a child from sitting in the front passenger seat until 12 years old, instead of 5. (Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee.)

Allow police to administer breath tests for alcohol and drugs to drivers arrested after an accident where another person was injured badly or killed. (Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken)

Allow S.C. public-college students to pay a percentage of their income after graduating rather than pay tuition while enrolled. (Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston)

Require school districts to include on their websites forms that students can complete anonymously to report bullying. (Limehouse)

Set the state minimum wage at $10 an hour or the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater. (Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg)

Require middle and high school athletes to receive an electrocardiogram during their physical exams. (Cobb-Hunter)

Bar legislators from voting for judges if they represent clients in any state court and senators could not appear as an attorney before a magistrate they recommended to the governor for appointment. (Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington)

Allow naming state buildings, roads, bridges, interchanges or intersections for elected or appointed officials only after they have been dead for at least five years. (Shealy)

Establish rules for homeowners associations, including registering with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs, conducting open meetings, preparing annual financial reports and holding hearings over potential violations. (Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland)

Allow political parties to change the way they nominate candidates to a convention from a primary with the approval of three-fourths of convention delegates and a majority of the voters in the next primary election. (Sens. Larry Martin, R- Pickens, and Chip Campsen, R-Charleston)

Reach Self at (803)771-8658; Reach Shain at (803)771-8619

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