South Carolina lawmakers ended this year’s legislative session at 5:00 p.m. Thursday without passing what they said, at the beginning of the session, was their top priority -— a plan for fixing state roads and bridges.
State Senator Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney), Senate Majority Leader, said he’s hoping they’ll pass a plan next year. “We’re working on it, and we’re doing our best. There are 46 members of the Senate and 124 members of the House and it’s hard to get these folks together on one plan,” he said.
Lawmakers were split into three camps: one group supports raising the gas tax as a stable source of additional money for roads; another group would be willing to raise the gas tax but only if there’s also an income tax cut and a change in the DOT’s structure; and the third group is against any kind of tax increase, arguing that there’s enough money in the current budget to fix roads.
Possibly the biggest success of the session was a bill Governor Nikki Haley signed into law Thursday morning. The new law increases penalties for domestic violence, bases penalties on the level of abuse instead of just the number of offenses, and bans gun ownership for some abusers.
“A judge is actually going to be able to make a determination based on a conviction, based on the threat, so this is not putting everybody in the same basket,” Gov. Haley said of the gun ban. “I think there’s some flexibility in there to make sure we’re handling this properly, but I think what this allows us to do is, again, watch out for the survivor. This is making sure that the survivor is protected, not the convenience of the abuser.”
The worst abusers would get a lifetime gun ban, while others would get an automatic three- or 10-year ban. Penalties for domestic violence would increase if children are present during the abuse, if the victim is pregnant, and if strangulation is involved.
Lawmakers also sent to the governor’s desk a bill to require all police to wear body cameras. The bill would give law enforcement agencies nine months to come up with policies, which would have to be approved by the Law Enforcement Training Council. The delay gives lawmakers more time to come up with the money to pay for the cameras and computer storage equipment.
Lawmakers have not passed a state budget, but will come back June 16-18 to finish that. They’re considering using some of the state’s budget surplus on roads so some improvement work will get done while they try to find a long-term solution.
During that three-day return to the Statehouse, they can also finish work on any other bills that have passed both bodies but in different versions. One example is a bill that would allow Uber and other ride-sharing apps to keep operating in the state. The House and Senate both passed the bill but have not agreed on a final version. Uber’s temporary license to operate expires June 30th.