Immigration and the Syrian refugee crisis, violence in churches and schools, and the historic flood that hit South Carolina in October are topics driving the legislative agendas of some S.C. lawmakers.
State House and Senate members got an early start this week on filing legislation for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 12. Several proposals are responses to challenges South Carolina has faced this year.
Here is a sampling of the proposals:
After historic rains flooded homes and businesses, and breached dams across the state – hitting the Midlands especially hard – lawmakers have proposed ways to offer relief to victims through tax policy and the state budget.
State Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, proposes offering tax refunds to owners of flood-damaged properties. He also would extend tax payment deadlines for taxpayers.
State Reps. Beth Bernstein and James Smith, both Richland Democrats, propose creating a disaster relief fund for victims. Taxpayers could contribute to the fund through their tax returns.
State Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, proposes a bill to create a state fund for grants to dam owners to pay for engineering and safety studies on their dams.
After the church shooting
In the wake of the racially motivated church shooting in Charleston this summer, some Democratic lawmakers want to expand the state’s death-penalty law and tighten gun control.
State Sens. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, introduced a state hate-crimes bill that would add murders committed because of a victim’s “race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability” to the list of circumstances that can lead to the death penalty.
Several lawmakers in the House and Senate propose lengthening the time a gun purchaser must wait for a background check to be completed. Proposals range from extending that waiting period to 10, 14 or 28 days from the current three days.
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, proposes a bill that would require the background check to be complete before a buyer could take possession of a gun.
That proposal is in response to the June shooting deaths of nine African-Americans at a Charleston AME church. Accused gunman Dylann Roof, who faces the death penalty, was able to complete his purchase of a gun after a background check was not completed within three days.
Curbing immigrants, refugees
Several bills aim to curb the number of immigrants, including refugees, who come to the Palmetto State.
A proposal by state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, would bar cities from adopting policies to limit or restrict enforcement of federal immigration laws in an effort to provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants.
Bryant also wants to bar state agencies from accepting or helping others to resettle refugees in the state until the federal government puts in place new security measures, which are not defined in the bill.
Two House bills also would prohibit using state resources to help with resettling refugees. Another would allow local governments to ask the state not to resettle refugees in their communities.
“Most folks are just extremely nervous” about the vetting of refugees, Bryant said. “The potential infiltration of a terrorist seems risky.”
After Spring Valley
State Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, said she has introduced a bill that would exclude students from the threat of being arrested under a state disturbing-schools law.
Controversy over the law flared when a Richland County Sheriff’s Department high school-resource officer forcibly removed a Spring Valley High School student from a chair after the student refused to leave class. Critics said the law criminalizes student behavior that otherwise would not be considered criminal. After firing the deputy, Richland Sheriff Leon Lott said the law has been abused.
McLeod said the disturbing-schools law was intended to protect students from outsiders coming on campus, loitering, causing a disturbance or threatening their safety. Her bill revises the law to exclude students from its provisions.
2016 General Assembly
Other bills introduced this week would:
▪ Make police dash-camera recordings available for public review through open records requests
▪ Require school bus drivers, crossing guards and resource officers to wear body cameras
▪ Let voters weigh in on whether the Confederate Flag, removed this summer from the State House grounds, should fly there again
▪ Create a committee to study putting a permanent memorial in Charleston’s Marion Square to the nine slain in a church this summer
▪ Require food-stamp recipients to pass drug tests to be eligible for the benefits