Politics & Government

Abortion, medical pot and guns: Bills that missed deadline to become SC law in 2019

In a 2019 legislative session dominated by debate over education reform and whether to sell Santee Cooper, some proposals were bound to fall by the wayside.

And on Wednesday, a host of high-profile bills officially missed a crucial legislative deadline, drastically reducing their chances of becoming law in 2019.

Bills that hadn’t passed either the S.C. House or Senate before Wednesday’s “crossover deadline” can still pass when the General Assembly reconvenes in January 2020. They still could pass this year, too, but only with significant bipartisan support uncommon to controversial bills.

After months of debate, here are the proposals that missed the deadline.

Plastic bag bans

The fight over whether cities and counties should be able to ban plastic bags has waged at the State House for years, and it won’t be settled in 2019. S. 394, an industry-backed bill, would preemptively block cities and counties from passing such bans.

Opponents of the bill say plastic bags trash the environment and endanger marine life. They add cities and counties should be able to make that call themselves. Supporters say banning the sacks hurts businesses and the plastic bag industry and annoys customers.

Fetal heartbeat abortion ban

House Republicans made a late push for a “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban that would criminalize abortions after about six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant and before the fetus can survive outside the womb. The bill passed two committees and reached the House floor for debate all in a single day on April 2, but there the bill stalled because of a filibuster threat by House Democrats that could have kept other bills from passing before the crossover deadline.

Supporters of the bill say the presence of a heartbeat indicates life, meaning an abortion of the baby amounts to murder. Opponents, including Planned Parenthood, say the bill restricts a woman’s ability to make decisions about her body with her doctor.

Fetal heartbeat bills introduced in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018 all died before making the House or Senate floor. This one could pass the House later this year, but it probably doesn’t have enough support in the Senate to get a debate there before 2020.

Offshore drilling

S.C. lawmakers have filed no fewer than five bills on seismic testing and drilling off the Atlantic Coast, some that would ban drilling and others that would support it. It’s a hot-button issue as President Donald Trump’s administration works to open previously protected U.S. waters to drilling. But none of the bills – S. 89, S. 296, H. 3087, H. 4049 and H. 3471 – have reached the House or Senate floor for debate.

Medical marijuana

Proposals to legalize marijuana for medical purposes appeared to have more momentum than ever before this year in the S.C. State House, but they still didn’t reach the House or Senate floor for debate before the crossover deadline. A hearing on the bill scheduled for last week was pushed back to this Thursday, a day after the deadline. That means supporters, such as state Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican, will have to pick up the push where they left off in January 2020.

Open carry

S.C. gun owners must wait at least another year to carry their guns without a permit after “open carry” proposals in the State House missed the crossover deadline. Republican lawmakers and gun rights groups pushed hard for those bills this year, but they became bottled up in the committee process and never reached the House or Senate floor.

A hearing on the bill this week also was canceled after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, received a death threat on a Facebook post that accused him of holding up the bill.

So, at least for now, gun owners still need to get training and a permit before they can carry a concealed weapon.

Gun regulations

Republicans didn’t get they want with open carry, but Democrats didn’t get any major gun regulations passed, either. A House proposal to tax gun purchases to pay for school resource officers made it nowhere this year. Nor did a proposal to extend the waiting period for background checks before purchases.

Rolling back dam regulations

A bill that would remove state oversight of 1,600 of South Carolina’s 2,400 regulated dams didn’t make the crossover deadline. Opponents of S. 107 say those dams need oversight because more than 80 have broken during storms in the past four years, causing record flood damage downstream, especially during the 2015 Columbia floods. Supporters say the bill rolls back unnecessary and burdensome regulation for rural landowners and farmers.

A few bills that beat the deadline

Tax breaks for the Panthers

On March 26, the S.C. House passed a proposal offering roughly $115 million in tax discounts over the next 15 years to entice the Carolina Panthers to move their headquarters and practice facilities across of the North Carolina border to Rock Hill. That proposal has stalled in the Senate, however, where state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, has vowed to hold it up until he sees more proof the deal would benefit South Carolina.

Safety rules for rideshare vehicles

On crossover deadline day, the House gave final approval to a bill requiring the display of illuminated signs on Uber and Lyft cars. The bill was filed days after University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was killed because she mistook the wrong car for her Uber in Five Points.

Raising payouts to victims of government negligence

After months of debate, the Senate passed a bill Tuesday to nearly double the possible payouts to victims of accidents caused by the government. Previously, victims could sue state agencies, cities, counties or school districts for $300,000 – or $600,000 to split amongst a group of victims. But critics and trial attorneys said those caps, which haven’t been adjusted in 20 years, are too low to cover government medical expenses and other costs in 2019.

Staff writers Tom Barton, Jeff Wilkinson and Sammy Fretwell contributed to this report.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.