A state Senate panel will discuss a bill Tuesday that an Anderson County legislator has proposed in an effort to prevent foreign refugees from coming to South Carolina.
The measure proposed by Republican Sen. Kevin Bryant of Anderson would require all state agencies to “immediately cease any involvement relating to refugees” placed in South Carolina.
Bryant cited concerns about federal screening procedures for foreign refugees when he proposed the measure after a Nov. 13 wave of coordinated attacks killed 130 people in Paris. The radical Islamic group ISIL claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.
The subcommittee hearing Tuesday comes after an impassioned Senate debate last week about Bryant’s bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler tried to place Bryant’s bill on the Senate calender for consideration, a move that was blocked by opposition from Democrats.
“We’re at war with these terrorists that have no rules of engagement,” said Peeler, a Republican from Gaffney. “The only treaty they recognize is your obituary.”
He added, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing is a cartoon, but a terrorist in refugee’s clothing is real.”
Peeler said he wanted to bypass the normal committee process on Bryant’s bill because, “I’ve never seen something as important as this and as timely as this. This is purely a life and death situation.”
Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden was one of the Democrats who voted against Peeler’s motion to place Bryant’s bill on the Senate calendar.
“Decisions made in fear are generally not good decisions,” Sheheen said.
“If my church wants to assist a brave Christian refugee who comes from a war-torn area who has had the guts to face what none of you will ever face … I want to have that chance,” Sheheen said. “It is a core of what I believe.”
He is one of three senators on the subcommittee who will consider Bryant’s bill Tuesday afternoon. Bryant appointed the panel after he was named last week to become chairman of the Senate General Committee, a post previously held by Sen. Billy O'Dell, a Ware Shoals Republican who died this month.
The subcommittee also will consider a bill proposed last week by Sen. Lee Bright that would require refugees to register with the South Carolina Department of Social Services within 30 days after entering the state. Besides preventing state or local funds from being spent to benefit refugees, his bill also would allow residents to sue refugee resettlement organizations for any deaths, personal injuries or property damage caused by refugees from a country recognized by the federal government as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Bright, a Spartanburg County Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee appointed by Bryant, said his bill is meant to “keep our people safe.”
“What is the point of having borders if we’re not going to protect our citizens within these borders from folks who are outside and choose to do us harm?” he said.
After the Paris attack, Gov. Nikki Haley joined 30 other governors in calling for federal officials to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.
Last week Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order forbidding his state from spending any money to aid or assist all foreign refugees.
Bryant said in an interview last week that he is aware that legal scholars have raised doubts about whether states may interfere with federal policies involving the resettlement of refugees.
“We are going to do everything we can,” Bryant said. “Out of the 50 states, I would like South Carolina to be the most difficult to work with.”