Tuesday was the first day lawmakers could file bills in advance of the upcoming legislative session. State Rep. Wendell Gilliard filed six bills, and five of them were about the state's homeless population.
"We do more for animals -- and don’t get me wrong, I‘m an animal lover -- but it looks like in our society we do more for animals than we do for human beings," Gilliard said. "Just in Greenville here a couple of weeks ago we had a homeless person die of hypothermia. He was left out in the cold. Far too many times in this state there are stories (like that)."
Some of the bills are practical while others call for more awareness of the state's homeless population. One bill, H.4375, would let restaurants donate old food to soup kitchens without being held liable for health code violations, except "gross negligence or recklessness."
"We have all these restaurants that throw food away ... those foods can be readily be brought to places like churches and all sorts of civic organizations to help feed the homeless. But we can’ do that because of the (state health regulations)," Gilliard said.
Gilliard's bills are:
H.4344, which would create "the hate crime of assault and battery on a homeless person." The penalty is 30 days for a first offense, and one year for a second or subsequent offense.
H.4358, which would require each county to publish a document listing all of the homeless services in that county. This document would be placed "in county offices that are frequently visited by homeless" and given to police officers to hand out to homeless people.
H.4375, which would allow restaurants to donate food to soup kitchens "without incurring legal liability or health code violations absent gross negligence or recklessness."
H.4377, which would establish a joint committee to study veteran homelessness and unemployment, among other things
H.4382, which would "urge our federal, state and local governments, along with churches and neighborhood associations, to accelerate their efforts to assist the homeless in light of the nation's economy and adverse weather conditions."
While Gilliard said he has always advocated for the homeless, he said he was inspired to file these bills in part by the Columbia City Council's plan to expand its winter homeless shelter -- a plan many criticized as trying to move the homeless population out of sight.
"I was very embarrassed about that. They can’t tuck away those people and tell those people we have to move along," Gilliard said. "They should be sitting around the Capitol steps."