South Carolina teens who don't take school seriously could lose their driver's licenses until they turn 18.
In a 67-29 vote, House lawmakers gave key approval Thursday to a bill that would revoke the licenses of 15, 16 and 17-year-olds who drop out of school, get expelled or accrue seven unexcused absences in one school year.
Twenty other states including North Carolina and Georgia have similar laws.
Bill sponsors, including Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, hope the measure will convince students that graduating from high school is a must.
"The dropout rate perpetuates social ills such as crime, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency and high unemployment," Young said. "This legislation is not the 'silver bullet' to the problem but it is a positive step toward encouraging young people to stay in school and get at least a high school education."
Any teen, whether they drop out or not, would be eligible for a driver's license once they turn 18.
Working teens who support themselves or their immediate families could also keep their licenses. And students who must drive ill family members to medical treatments would also be eligible for a waiver.
But some House members said the bill is too punitive on truant students.
"Every school does not do an adequate job in sitting down with a parent and child and addressing why a child is truant," said Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg. "There are a lot of issues with these students. And it's not always the student's fault. A lot of it has to do with accountability of parents."
If passed, the measure will cost the Department of Motor Vehicles about $92,000 to set up a computer interface and an additional $7,000 annually to track students.
Officials with the state Department of Education said the measure is a step in the right direction of improving the state's on-time graduation rate of 74 percent.
On-time graduation is defined as ninth graders who graduate within four years. There are 62,964 ninth graders in South Carolina. If current trends hold, more than 16,000 of those students will not graduate within four years, a risk factor for dropping out.
Still, the bill is far from a done deal.
It is likely to receive final approval from House members next week. But two-thirds of senators would have to agree to take up the bill.
Young said would start talking to senators immediately, paving the way for its passage.