Politics & Government

April 27, 2014

Senators to debate Common Core as ‘crossover’ deadline looms

State senators will be under deadline pressure to decide what they want to do about Common Core when they reconvene this week.

State senators will be under deadline pressure to decide what they want to do about Common Core when they reconvene this week.

The Legislature’s May 1 “crossover” deadline requires bills to move across the State House lobby – from one legislative body to the other; in this case, from the Senate to the S.C. House – to have a realistic chance of passage this session, which ends June 5. After the crossover deadline, it is much more difficult for a Senate bill, for example, to be considered by the House – requiring a two-thirds vote even to be considered.

Senators will consider a bill proposed in reaction to the controversial Common Core education standards.

S.C. schools have spent almost $100 million to launch the K-12 education standards, designed to set what students should know at each grade level so they are ready to go to college or enter the workplace. However, the standards, developed by the states and business groups, are opposed bitterly by some who say the federal government has coerced states into adopting Common Core.

“(The debate) is a huge policy issue that’s going to take some substantial time for people to make a decision on because there’s no easy answer,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

The Senate must decide whether to hurry its debate on a Senate Common Core bill or try to get around the May 1 crossover deadline – buying more time – by working off a similar bill that already has passed the House and is in the Senate.

Passing its own Common Core proposal would give the Senate more time on an even more pressing deadline that looms – passing a state budget to take effect July 1. If senators decide to work on the House bill, they would have to break their debate of that bill as soon as the budget hits the Senate floor for what could be a lengthy debate.

The Senate version of the Common Core bill up for discussion this week would:

•  Pull the state out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is devising an exam to test how students rate in meeting Common Core’s standards
•  Outline the requirement for tests to measure students’ readiness for colleges or careers
•  Require an evaluation of Common Core by July 1, 2018, at the latest, assessing what works for the state and what does not
•  Protect student information and limit those who have access to individual student data

In addition, the Senate proposal would require the General Assembly to approve any future education standards, like Common Core, for S.C. schools that are not developed by the state Department of Education, said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“It starts a transition to take back over the standards at the state level,” said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, the bill’s main sponsor.

Across the lobby, a House priority in the race against the crossover deadline will be the Electronic Data Privacy Protection Act.

State Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, the bill’s sponsor, said his proposal extends the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures to data stored on mobile electronic devices.

“Now, instead of it (information) being in your filing cabinet in your home, it’s in your pocket in your cellphone,” Smith said. “It’s designed to protect that information from inappropriate and overaggressive governmental intrusion.”

Bills on the edge

The pressure is on to get legislative proposals across the State House lobby –- between the S.C. House and state Senate –- by Thursday. After the May 1 “crossover deadline” it becomes much more difficult for bills to be passed during this legislative session, and proposals that do not pass this year –- the second in a two-year session –- die. Some of the proposals in peril:

Allow public schools to educate students about “traditional winter celebrations.” State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, says his bill is needed to protect schools from a growing number of lawsuits over holiday displays. Under the bill, a religious icon such as a nativity scene either would have to be paired with a secular symbol or grouped with at least one other religion’s symbol. The state American Civil Liberties Union says the bill is unnecessary and could be problematic because such a display should feature more than two things.

Appointing the state superintendent of education. One proposal would ask voters in November whether the superintendent, now elected, should be appointed by the governor. Another would specify what qualifications the state schools chief would need if voters approve the constitutional amendment. The idea has failed repeatedly over the last decade. Superintendent Mick Zais says having the superintendent work directly for the governor would increase accountability for improving public schools.

Beach management: A bill to allow use of new technology to protect oceanfront property and restoration of a roughly 4,000-foot long seawall at Debordieu Beach, the first allowance for a seawall in 26 years.

Create a research university within the College of Charleston. The bill is a compromise of an earlier version that would have forced a merger between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina. Under the compromise, they would remain two separate colleges but collaborate to offer doctoral degrees as the University of Charleston, South Carolina. The state now has three research universities: the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and MUSC, which offers only medical degrees.

Electronic data privacy: A bill to clarify requirements for searches of electronic messages and mobile devices, requiring law enforcement get a search warrant before searching a mobile device.

Limiting the attorney general: Two measures, both sponsored by state Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, dealing with the state attorney general are on the House calendar. One would allow legislative leaders to appoint special prosecutors to handle public corruption cases against constitutional officers. The other is a proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to strip the attorney general of his role as the state’s chief prosecutor. Critics question the timing of the proposals, filed after S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson asked a statewide grand jury to review allegations of ethics violations against House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.

Slow down drivers in highway construction zones. The bill, which increases penalties and state trooper presence, creates the crime of endangering a highway worker for anyone speeding or ignoring traffic signs inside construction or utility work zones. Half of the increased fines would go to the Department of Public Safety to pay for more troopers at the sites. The current fine is $75 to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. The bill would increase that to between $500 and $1,000 if no one is injured, and up to $5,000 if injury results.

Solar energy: A bill, originally intended to help homeowners afford the high upfront cost of rooftop solar energy systems has been amended to help power companies recover costs. Despite some concerns, the complex bill is expected to increase solar energy use in the state.

Update the state’s sex education law. The proposal would require that students receive medically accurate information on how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and require teachers be certified to teach the course. It also attempts to improve school district compliance. Currently, many districts don’t fill out an annual, self-reported state survey on what’s taught and in which grades.

Bills that already have crossed over

Among the proposals that already have made the crossover deadline are:

Ethics reform: Versions of ethics bills have passed both chambers. The bills would require more disclosure by lawmakers, but they differ over who could discipline House and Senate members, who now face only their peers on the House and Senate ethics committees.

Limiting abortion: A House-passed proposal to ban abortions after 19 weeks, except in instances where the life of the mother is threatened, is in the state Senate.

Read to Succeed/4K: A Senate-passed bill would pay for added instruction for third-graders having difficulty reading, including reading coaches and summer reading camps. The bill also would expand the state’s free full-day kindergarten program for at-risk 4-year-olds as money is made available.

The Associated Press and Anderson Independent Mail contributed

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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