Mammoth state fossil bill revived, but barbecue could be skewered

ccope@thestate.comApril 2, 2014 

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    An end to official state symbols?

    Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler added an amendment Wednesday to a proposal designating the Columbian mammoth as the official state fossil that would put a stop to new official state symbols. As a result, two other proposals -- for a state picnic cuisine and state land mammal -- could be killed.

    S1136: Proposes to make barbecue the official state picnic cuisine. S.C. is considered “The Birthplace of Barbecue,” the bill states, with roots in the 1500s.

    S1146: Proposes making the pygmy shrew the official land mammal of South Carolina. Pygmy shrews are the smallest mammal in the state, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

— A state senator brought the Columbian mammoth back from the brink of extinction as the official state fossil Wednesday, reversing his objection from earlier in the day.

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, backpedaled Wednesday afternoon, dropping his objection to the bill, the idea of Lake City third-grader Olivia McConnell. But Peeler added an amendment to the mammoth proposal that would put a moratorium on new official state emblems and other symbols.

Peeler’s reversal came after he said he received many tweets, emails and calls in opposition to his objection. “I am not in the business of breaking third-graders’ hearts,” Peeler told the Senate.

Amanda McConnell, Olivia’s mom, was one of the many to contact Peeler’s office Wednesday to get him to remove his objection.

McConnell said she and Olivia have been tracking the bill’s progress online almost daily.

To an 8-year-old, the process has been lengthy.

When state Sen. Mike Fair objected to the bill last week, Olivia was skeptical, her mother said.

“Mom, I did my research, and I came up with three good reasons why we needed a state fossil,” McConnell quoted her daughter saying. “Now, for a senator to object to this, does he have three good reasons why we don’t?” her mother said she asked.

Olivia McConnell proposed the mammoth as the state fossil because, in part, its teeth were one of the first vertebrae fossils found in North America, dug up by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725.

Peeler’s fleeting opposition was just one of two last-minute maneuvers involving the mammoth bill.

Tuesday, state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, added an amendment to the proposal to directly acknowledge a religious creator.

The mammoth became extinct about 10,000 years ago, according to scientists, putting it at odds with some religious faiths that say the Earth to be only 6,000 years old.

“I feel like the wooly mammoth is a fascinating creature,” Bryant said, adding, in his opinion, it is appropriate to give credit to the creator of such creatures.

Peeler’s objection was more secular.

“It’s past time for the state of South Carolina to recognize we have enough state official whatevers,” he said.

But Peeler later clarified his objection. “The place for it to end is after we have the mammoth,” he said.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Robert Ridgeway III, D-Clarendon, said the legislation is not just about a state fossil or symbol. He said it is about showing support of children.

“When they are interested in something, we should support them and encourage them to pursue that,” he said.

Ridgeway has been keeping a toy mammoth in his desk drawer on the House floor that he said he bought at the S.C. State Museum. He hopes to present it to Olivia McConnell if her idea is signed into law.

Forty-three other states have a state fossil, Ridgeway said, adding some significance to Olivia’s idea.

The Senate is expected to give the mammoth bill final approval Thursday. Then, the bill will go back to the S.C. House, which could approve the Senate’s changes or reject them, sending the idea to a House-Senate conference committee.

South Carolina has 50 official state symbols — including a state heritage horse, the marsh tacky; a state migratory marine mammal, the northern right whale; and a state hospitality beverage, tea. But Peeler’s amendment would stop the introduction of any new official state animals, foods, symbols, dances and events until lawmakers take legislative action to remove the moratorium.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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