Four months isn’t enough time to get all the state’s business done.
When South Carolina lawmakers wrapped the 2017 legislative session in May, they had approved a plan to fix the state’s dilapidated roads, including a higher gas tax, and shored up the state’s pension system.
But some bills didn’t reach the finish line for one reason or another, so even before moving on to new business, the Legislature will have a lot to pick back up when they convene for the second half of the session in January.
Guns, both pro and con
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Multiple bills affect South Carolinians’ ability to buy and carry firearms publicly. Last year, the S.C. House of Representatives approved two bills loosening the requirements for carrying a gun in the Palmetto State, only to see them get stuck in the state Senate.
One would allow anyone with an out-of-state gun permit to carry a concealed weapon in South Carolina as long as their state also recognizes S.C. carrying permits. The bill removes any requirement on the traveler to have passed a criminal background check or taken a firearm safety course. However, the traveler still must observe S.C. laws for carrying firearms while in the state.
That loophole – a federal rule that allows a gun purchase to be completed if a background check takes longer than three days – allowed convicted Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof to purchase a handgun because a prior drug conviction was not reported to the seller within the three-day wait period. Another bill would require courts to speed up the reporting of criminal convictions for background checks.
Both of those bills remained in committee when the 2017 session came to an end.
The debate around all these bills started before this autumn’s mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, and it’s unclear what effect those might have on S.C. lawmakers’ appetite for more gun legislation.
Companion bills in the House and Senate would allow patients in South Carolina to use medical marijuana. The “Compassionate Care Act” did not make it out of committee, but supporters collected testimony in several hearings on the medical benefits of products derived from marijuana, both from medical experts and the families of those suffering from chronic conditions.
The bill would allow South Carolinians with “debilitating medical conditions” to use medical pot, when approved by a doctor.
The House version of the bill even got the approval of a medical affairs subcommittee, despite the opposition of the head of the State Law Enforcement Division who said it would open a “Pandora’s box” if the state signed off on the use of the drug.
While similar legislation died in committee during the 2015-16 session, supporters of the bill were encouraged by polling that shows 78 percent of South Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical use. In 2014, the Legislature legalized the use of cannabidoil, a marijuana derivative that can be used to control seizures.
Politicians pay the penalty for bad behavior?
One bill introduced too late to make it over the finish line this year was a proposal that would punish misbehaving politicians who resign because of a criminal conviction.
Sponsored by Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, the bill would make politicians liable for the cost of holding a special election to replace them, if they are later convicted of criminal behavior.
Judges would be able to impose the penalty as part of a settlement of a politician’s case.
South Carolina has seen several members of the Legislature step down in recent years. Most recently, Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, resigned on Wednesday ahead of pleading guilty to misconduct in office as part of the ongoing State House corruption probe. Quinn’s resignation triggered a new special in Lexington County early next year.
Quinn joins seven other lawmakers who were forced out of office because of legal troubles in the years since the Operation Lost Trust investigation.
Light on ‘dark money’?
A bill sponsored by one of the Senate’s most powerful members could run up against some of the state’s most powerful interests.
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, is sponsoring a bill that would require groups that engage in “election communications” to disclose information about their donors who spend $1,000 or more – including their name, mailing address, occupation and employer.
Critics of such “dark money” donations say that secrecy makes it impossible for voters to know the agenda of the donors when they are pushing an issue or opposing a candidate.
But the bill hit a snag when a Senate panel declined to move on the bill when right-leaning advocacy groups asserted it would discourage S.C. residents from criticizing politicians and set up their donors for retaliation.
Leatherman was himself the targeted of a tightly contested – and expensive – GOP primary in 2016, in which the Florence senator was targeted for defeat by the S.C. Club for Growth.
A nearly identical bill is sitting in committee in the House.