The 2015-2016 legislative session at the S.C. Statehouse starts at noon today. Here's a quick rundown of some of the important, controversial, and downright bizarre bills that have been prefiled:
Fun with Guns: H. 3033 (Cobb-Hunter) would require a national instant criminal background check before all gun sales and exchanges. S. 95 (Bright) would allow gun safety classes to be taught in grade schools. H. 3023 (Clemmons), the Second Amendment Education Act of 2015, would require high schools to incorporate three weeks of instruction on the Second Amendment using a curriculum developed by the National Rifle Association. The bill's sponsor has said that it was inspired by the Summerville High School student who was disciplined for writing a fictional story about shooting a dinosaur.
Sexting Ban: S. 190 (Fair, Jackson) would create the offense of sexting. People under 18 years of age would be prohibited from knowingly transmitting or distributing to another person "a photograph or text message with an attached photograph depicting a person who is less than eighteen years of age in a state of sexual activity ... or a state of sexually explicit nudity."
Equal Pay: H. 3253 (Stavrinakis, Cobb-Hunter, McKnight), the S.C. State Employee Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, would make it illegal for a state agency to "discriminate against an employee on the basis of gender" by paying a lower wage than another employee of a different gender is paid for the same work. The bill would not outlaw seniority or merit systems, and employees could still be paid extra according to their level of education.
Weed: H. 3140 (Rutherford), the Put Patients First Act, would allow physicians to prescribe up to two ounces of usable marijuana or six marijuana plants, via regulated dispensaries, for patients suffering from cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, and persistent muscle spasms. A similar bill was not even given a hearing last year, but a more modest bill from the Senate passed allowing the prescription of cannabidiol (a marijuana component) for patients with certain severe forms of epilepsy. H. 3117 (Pitts, Rutherford) would decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or 10 grams of hashish and authorize law enforcement agents to issue civil citations for possession.
Peeing for Payouts: S. 231 (Bright, Bryant) would require recipients of public assistance to submit to drug testing before receiving benefits from any government agency. The recipients would be required to pay for the cost of the drug testing, but the cost would be refunded to them via an increase in benefit payments if they pass the test. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 12 states including Georgia and North Carolina have passed similar laws.
Shooting Craps for Infrastructure: H. 3127 (Rutherford, McKnight) would legalize horserace betting, sports betting, casino gambling, and electronic gambling for the purpose of generating revenue to fund road construction and improvement projects across the state.
Up With Wages: H. 3031 (Cobb-Hunter, R.L. Brown, Henegan, et al.) would set a statewide minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. S. 145 (Scott, Pinckney, Johnson, et al.) would require employers to pay at least one dollar per hour more than the federal minimum wage. The state Department of Employment and Workforce would then be required to use the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers to adjust the minimum wage every year based on inflation.
Abortion: S. 25 (Grooms) would prohibit abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy. H. 3114 (Nanney, Hicks, Allison, et al.) is a similar bill.
DRY BUT IMPORTANT
New Lines: H. 3047 (Funderburk, Long, Cobb-Hunter) and H. 3178 (Tinkler, Cobb-Hunter) would create a Reapportionment Commission, consisting partly of senators and representatives, "to guarantee fair and effective representation for all citizens" in the redrawing of congressional districts.
Gas Tax Hike: H. 3262 and H. 3263 (Stringer) would increase the sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 5 cents per gallon, with revenues going to the County Road Transfer Fund for road projects.
Yacht Tax: H. 3064 (Goldfinch) would raise the cap on the state vehicle sales tax from $300 to $750. Under current law, a person buying a luxury yacht in South Carolina will pay the same amount of sales tax as someone buying a new Kia.
Flat and Fair: H. 3164 (Stringer, G.R. Smith, Henderson) would replace the progressive individual income tax with a flat 3.5-percent income tax, with tax credits available for low-income brackets. S. 26 (Grooms, Campsen), the S.C. Fair Tax Act, would set a flat 6-percent sales tax, with a Family Consumption Allowance tax rebate available for some basic household needs.
Appointments: H. 3041 (Delleney, Allison, Atwater, et al.), which already has more than 60 co-sponsors, would change the office of state superintendent of education from an elected position to a governor-appointed position. S. 8 (L. Martin, Campsen) would do the same for the office of adjutant general.
Party Politics: H. 3087 (Limehouse) would require voters in primary elections to register with a state political party.
Law of the Landlord: S. 38 (Bryant) would allow a landlord to pursue garnishment for outstanding debt if a tenant willfully violates a rental agreement.
MAKING A STATEMENT
Straight Marriage: S. 31 (Grooms) would call for a constitutional convention of the states to propose an amendment defining marriage as being strictly between one man and one woman. H. 3022 (Chumley) would prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay benefits to same-sex couples.
Blocking Obamacare: H. 3020 (Chumley, G.R. Smith), the ACA Anti-Commandeering Act, would assert "the right of the states to refuse to use state resources to enforce federal laws" and bar public officials and employees from enforcing most parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Personhood: S. 129 (Bright), the Personhood Act of South Carolina, would grant personhood to fertilized eggs, effectively banning abortion and certain birth control methods. Two similar bills were halted in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee last year.
Maximally Adequate: H. 3110 (W.J. McLeod, Cobb-Hunter) would amend the state constitution to require public schools to "provide a high-quality education allowing each student to reach his highest potential." The bill would trump a long-standing state Supreme Court ruling that requires the state to provide a "minimally adequate" education.
IN THE NEWS
Cameras for Cops: H. 3057 (Gilliard, Alexander, Henegan, et al.) would require all law enforcement agencies to equip their officers with wearable video cameras, citing "recent events in Ferguson, Mo." as cause for "citizens across this country to examine, consider, and implement more effective and safer means to enforce the laws of our land." H. 3058 (Gilliard) would create a Study Committee on the Use of Wearable Video Cameras by State Troopers, which would report its findings to the General Assembly on June 1, 2015. S. 48 (Malloy, I. Martin, Kimpson) would create a "study committee on racial profiling."
Protecting Children: S. 150 (Shealy, Lourie, McElveen, et al.), the S.C. Child Welfare Reform Act, would abolish the embattled state Department of Social Services and establish a new Department of Family Protective Services. It would add education and experience requirements for child welfare caseworkers, establish maximum caseloads for caseworkers, and establish a statewide, toll-free child abuse hotline, among other measures. The DSS came under scrutiny in 2014 when some critics said the agency didn't do enough to prevent the deaths of children in its care. Former executive director Lillian Koller resigned under pressure last summer, and the agency has recently been reporting difficulty in hiring enough caseworkers to keep up with its responsibilities.
Ethics Reform ... For Real This Time: Following serious ethics violations by former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, former Sen. Robert Ford, and former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, several ethics reform bills have been introduced. Major ethics bills fizzled out without passing in 2013 and 2014, but with a new session comes new hope. H. 3174 (Tinkler) would seek to end the General Assembly's practice of self-policing by placing its members under the jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission. S. 1 (L. Martin, Peeler, Hayes, et al), the 2015 Ethics Reform Act, would strengthen filing requirements for candidates and lobbyists, prohibit lawmakers from lobbying or accepting a job in an area in which he or she "substantially participated" as a public servant, and require more public officials to file a statement of economic interests, among many other measures. S. 200 (Sheheen) would ban leadership PACs, such as the one Harrell famously ran, which are organized for or on behalf of a single statewide official. Other prefiled ethics bills include H. 3175 (Tinkler), H. 3184 (Pope), H. 3185 (Pope), H. 3227 (W. McLeod), S. 202 (Sheheen), and S. 203 (Sheheen). If you want to take a closer look, check out the conservative S.C. Policy Council's detailed rundown of ethics bills here.
ODDS AND ENDS
Paying Student Athletes: H. 3238 (Putnam) would allow college athletes to receive compensation from the sale of merchandise or memorabilia bearing their image. This would be a violation of the NCAA's strict amateurism policy. S. 171 (Kimpson) would go a step further and require state universities with NCAA Division I athletic programs generating at least $50 million per year to "annually award stipends to student athletes who participate in an intercollegiate sport and maintain a good academic standing during the previous year." Clemson University and the University of South Carolina would be affected by the bill.
Nopeds: H. 3033 (Hiott) would ban mopeds from all public streets and highways. A more moderate Senate bill, S. 152 (Shealy, Hembree), would redefine mopeds as motor vehicles and require riders to get liability insurance. H. 3142 (Ryhal, Clemmons) would require moped riders to wear reflective vests and install continually flashing red tail lights.