COLUMBIA - It was a day of smooth sailing as the House of Representatives approved most sections of the state's budget with little discussion on individual items.
Most discussion centered on four amendments introduced by Democrats who sought to have monies restored to the budgets of the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina in Spartanburg that were cut because of two controversial books.
Representatives James Smith D-Columbia, and Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, introduced amendments that would have restored $52,000 and $17,142 slashed from the College of Charleston and USC Upstate, respectively, during the budget writing process. But each measure failed when House members overwhelmingly voted in favor of killing the amendments.
"Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel, written and drawn in the style of a graphic novel, was assigned to College of Charleston freshmen. It explores the author's upbringing and coming to terms with her sexuality. Meanwhile, "Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio," a book about South Carolina's first gay and lesbian radio show was the book most House members took issue with at USC Upstate.
"I don't approve of the material," said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, after the votes. "But I'm not going to sit here as a legislator and punish the school."
Stavrinakis added that if lawmakers don't agree with the material being assigned, they should address it while electing board members to the schools. He added he wasn't surprised by the vote.
During the discussion on the floor, Cobb-Hunter argued lawmakers should consider the message it is sending out to the rest of the country when it appears to be worrying over books instead of the state's roads and bridges, or making sure people can afford health care.
"This, Mr. Speaker and members, is about censorship," Cobb-Hunter said while on the floor. "Pure and simple, and us trying to limit academic freedom."
During the later discussion concerning the cuts to USC Upstate, Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman, argued there should be some balance when it comes to books in the required list. Allison added she received phone calls from concerned parents and students because of the book.
"They didn't want to particularly read a book that was against their values," Allison said. "These students did not have a choice, they were told."
The College of Charleston had no statement concerning the cuts to the budget, said Michael Robertson, spokesman for the college in an email. He did say, however, he wanted to clear up a misconception.
"The College of Charleston has never required students to read the books in the College Reads program," Robertson wrote. "If students were opposed to the book, they were not forced to read it. If the course they were taking required them to read the book, they had the opportunity to drop out of that class and enter another class that did not have that requirement. At no time did the College of Charleston inform students that they were required to read the College Reads book."
Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said the House's Democrats made their show of hysterical consternation, but that nothing has been censored.
"They came up with their faux issue of censorship," he said. "Aside from the minor dust-up, we had a very smooth day."
Indeed very few sections were held over for further discussion, which did not include the budget of South Carolina State University. The university's accreditation was reportedly placed in jeopardy because of its financial instability and governance issues, according to the Associated Press.
The budget approval process will continue today. Limehouse said he hopes the House doesn't get caught up in any lengthy debate. He added over the years, the House has smoothed out the approval process by having most discussions during the committee level instead of on the floor.
When asked about the impending discussion concerning the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, Limehouse sighed.
"That may not go so smooth," he said.
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