The practice of naming proposed laws after tragedy victims is grinding to a halt in the S.C. State House’s upper chamber.
State senators have banned themselves from attaching the names of people or animals to bills in an effort, they say, to keep emotions out of policy making. They also could consider striking names from bills sent over by the S.C. House, since the House does not have a similar rule in place.
“Lots of times when legislation is named after a person or an animal, it adds an emotional aspect of the bill that really is a distraction from the merits of the bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “It makes the debate and the vote less about the merit of the legislation than it does about the name that’s attached.”
Aiming at addressing systemic flaws that play a role in wrongful deaths, S.C. legislators have put victims’ names on bills to boost safety requirements for children on all-terrain vehicles, target drunk drivers, set new standards for train rides and require colleges to publicly divulge misconduct violations by fraternities and sororities.
S.C. legislalors are not alone.
Nor did the practice start here.
Banning an age-old practice?
More than 2,000 years ago, Roman lawmakers named proposals after themselves. So did members of Britain’s parliament, centuries later.
For years, legislators in statehouses across the United States and in Congress have named bills after people.
One of the best-known federal examples is the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, passed by Congress in 1993. The law requires waiting periods for handgun purchases and orders federal background checks for gun buyers. It was named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was wounded seriously during a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
Some high-profile incidents spark named legislation in multiple states.
A USA Today survey in 2011, for example, found legislators in at least 25 states had filed or planned to file versions of “Caylee’s Law,” which would make it a felony for a parent or legal guardian to not report a missing child. The proposed laws stemmed from the death of a 2-year-old Florida child.
But “legislation by anecdote” puts lawmakers in a bind, some say.
Stymieing ‘objective and honest debate?’
Over the years, S.C. legislators have felt awkward in opposing legislation they deemed unwise because they did not want to insult victims’ families, said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who proposed the rule change.
“When a grieving parent becomes emotionally invested with legislation as a tribute to their child, it makes it very difficult to have an objective and honest debate about the merits of it,” Sheheen said.
State Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Anderson, says that is a cop-out.
Putnam named the Tucker Hipps bill after a Clemson University student whose body was found in Lake Hartwell after a predawn run with other fraternity members in 2014.
“You’re probably not too great a legislator if you can’t vote against something just because there’s a name on it,” Putnam said.
Putnam said it is not appropriate to name every bill after someone.
“But when you do have some cases that are incredibly heart-wrenching, I think it could be a benefit,” Putnam said. “It links something the community understands and knows, and brings more attention to the severity of what we’re trying to fix with legislation.”
Sheheen and Massey say the practice of naming laws after victims seemingly has ramped up in South Carolina over the past few years.
Some lawmakers intentionally use the names to pressure their colleagues, Republican Massey added.
“So not only is it more difficult to vote against it, but it’s more difficult to argue against it or even raise a question about the substance against it,” Massey said. “Sometimes, it can be used as a means of intimidation. You don’t want to make the family mad. We need to have open and honest debates about the legislation.”
The Senate rule change went into effect Jan. 1.
But bills that were prefiled in December can go forward with the victim’s name attached.
▪ Hyco’s Law, named after an Anderson County Sheriff’s Department police dog killed in 2015, proposes stiffer penalties for harming police dogs or horses
▪ Alicia’s Law, which would create a fund to investigate, prosecute and prevent crimes against children
▪ A series of bills named after Jacob Hall, the 6-year-old killed in October’s Townville Elementary School shooting, that would let school districts authorize school personnel to carry weapons.
Recent, high-profile SC laws named after victims
2016: Tucker Hipps Transparency Act requires colleges to publicly divulge misconduct violations by fraternities and sororities. The law was named for a Clemson University student whose body was found in Lake Hartwell after a predawn run with other fraternity members in 2014.
2014: Emma’s Law targets repeat drunk drivers by requiring an interlock device be hooked up to a car’s ignition for all first-offense drunken drivers who plead guilty or are convicted and have a blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent or above, roughly twice the limit for drunken driving. The law was named after 6-year-old Emma Longstreet of Lexington, killed by a drunk driver in 2012 on her way to church.
2014: Jaidon’s Law makes it more difficult to return children to their drug-abusing parents by requiring the state’s child-welfare agency and judges to consider whether those parents still are using drugs. It was passed after 22-month-old Jaidon Morris died in 2008 from a drug overdose, a week after he was removed from a foster home and returned to his biological parents, who had a history of drug problems.
2012: Benji’s Law raises standards for miniature train rides after a Spartanburg crash that killed a 6-year-old boy.
2011: Chandler’s Law sets new safety requirements for children on all-terrain vehicles. It was named after Lexington County boy who died in 2003 while riding his ATV.
2011: John’s Law, requires the S.C. Department of Transportation to publish a list of at-grade railroad crossings and crossing signal projects. It was named after a 16-year-old Sumter County student who died after a collision between his vehicle and a train at a railroad crossing that did not have crossing arms.