Before the starting gun fires in January for the next legislative session, legislators are stretching their muscles with bills either ready for a marathon run to the finish line or a fruitless trot around the track.
The priorities are evident in legislation authored by House and Senate leaders: limiting state government spending and increasing savings, mandating state IDs to vote in elections, and expanding the state's strong immigration laws to match those made famous by Arizona. But there are a lot of great bills that probably won't get as much attention.
Fearing either Klingon assimilation or the tepid success of Handy Manny, Senate leader Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) continues to press for every state and local document to be published exclusively in English (S.19). Before you set up a conference call with your translator and your state representative, the largely symbolic measure excludes just about every state document that would be worth printing in Spanish, including exceptions for libraries, schools, public television, health centers, tourism groups, and law enforcement.
Among the unresolved issues stemming from Gov. Mark Sanford's fabricated hike through Appalachia, McConnell has also introduced legislation to limit the use of state-owned aircraft, stemming from perceived abuses identified in the wake of the Sanford scandal (S.34). One bill would mandate the governor alert the lite gov when he or she is out of the state (S. 28) and others update the process for impeachment and offenses warranting removal from office.
The latest scourge appears to be sexting. Companion bills in both houses (S. 296, H. 3130) would target teenagers under 18 who want to text, mail, or carrier pigeon nude or sexual photos. Conviction would mean a $100 fine and time spent in an class that teaches the consequences of sexting. If the minor fails to do that, the state can restrict driving privileges, which would seem an odd punishment, but the bills would register sexting as a traffic offense prosecuted in municipal traffic court.
Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) has put his weight behind North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey in the ongoing battle over rail access to the new port site. A bill by the legislator would reinforce the city's rights regarding redevelopment at the former Navy Yard (S. 150).
There are some familiar gripes, like a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants (H. 3022) or when kids are in the car (S. 215). There's also a proposed ban on texting while driving (S. 225, H. 3115), as well as various limitations on all-terrain vehicles, golf carts, and mopeds — clown cars and unicycles dodge oversight, yet again. Of course, there are bills to ban synthetic marijuana (H. 3137) and caffeinated brews like Four Loko (H. 3246 and 3263). Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) wants to allow military service members to have a drink, even if they're under 21 (S.83). You college kids will apparently need to stick with your illegal hooch and pharmaceuticals. Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Oconee) wants to outlaw novelty lighters (S.94). Don't worry — lighters for grills or fireplaces would be exempt, so you can keep that charcoal lighter that looks like a light saber.
Sen. Mike Rose (R-Dorchester) wants to refuse all money the state has been offered through the Recovery and Reinvestment Act (S. 237), which is a convenient demand considering most of that money has already been spent. The must-have item for any Tea Partier next year may very well be a "Don't Tread On Me" license plate (H. 3162). Ironically, funds collected would be spent at the discretion of the legislature.
Several bills have been drafted to reform the state's gambling ban (S. 254-256, H. 3060, 3061). Finally, Sen. Ford and Rep. Gilliard want to increase regulations on hair braiding (S.86, H. 3099).
The fun starts Jan. 11.