COLUMBIA — Emma’s Law, the state’s first get-tough effort on drunken drivers in years, ran into a roadblock Tuesday in the S.C. Senate, when one senator blocked the bill for a day.
“The tradition in the Senate is if one senator wants to carry over any bill for a day, that privilege is granted,” said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, the bill’s sponsor.
Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, who requested the bill be “carried over” for a day, said later Tuesday that he just wants to give himself and the Senate a chance to review changes in the bill since it left the Senate last year. The S.C. House unanimously passed the amended version April 2.
Malloy said he was out last Thursday, when the House-passed bill arrived in the Senate, so Tuesday was the first legislative day that he has had a chance to deal with the bill.
“We are going to review it. That’s the same thing we do with every other bill that comes back that’s had a substantive change,” Malloy said.
Emma’s Law was amended slightly in the House, and Lourie and his supporters want the Senate to approve the House version of the bill. Due to parliamentary rules, supporters say, if the Senate changes the House version in any way, that likely could doom the bill’s chances of becoming law. The bill would then have to clear numerous new legislative hurdles to be passed.
“That would kill the bill,” said Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims’ Council.
Lourie also said any amendments by the Senate could be a disaster.
“Our intention is for the Senate to pass the bill without amendments,” Lourie said. “We have broad bipartisan support for this.”
The House made several amendments to the Senate version of Emma’s Law. One would raise the blood alcohol level requirement to .15 from .12 for the standard requiring any person pleading guilty to or being convicted of first offense DUI to use an ignition interlock device.
For two years, Lourie and some other lawmakers, along with victims and safety advocates, have pushed – sometimes with fierce resistance from trial lawyers – to get the bill first through the Senate and, earlier this month, the S.C. House. For more than a year, the bill was mired in an obscure House subcommittee, four of whose five members are lawyers.
South Carolina’s current DUI laws contain numerous loopholes that allow accused and convicted drunken drivers to hire lawyers and get quickly back on the roads. Defending drunk drivers in the various courts of appeal and getting them back driving is a booming $100 million-a-year legal business in South Carolina.
South Carolina has one of the highest rates of drunken driving fatalities in the nation. The proposed law is named after Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old Lexington girl killed by a repeat drunken driving offender in 2012. Since Emma died, drunken drivers have killed more than 500 other South Carolinians.