COLUMBIA — The South Carolina House of Representatives made two historic votes early Thursday morning, ordering the permanent removal of the Statehouse’s Confederate battle flag.
House members voted on a bill that furls the rebel banner and sends it to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. Both votes took place within minutes of each other.
House members first approved of the bill on a 93-27 vote around 12:58 a.m. They followed up with a second and final 94-20 vote around 1:11 a.m.
Gov. Nikki Haley said in a written statement that House members, as senators did before them, served the state and her people with great dignity.
“I’m grateful for their service and their compassion,” Haley said. “It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.”
The bill still has to be ratified before it can be sent to Haley’s desk. And Haley has five days to sign it to have it become law.
The votes came after the chamber spent more than 10 hours in session, debating amendments to the bill that enraged both Republicans and Democrats. The debate continued for nearly five hours after a very emotional plea by Summerville Republican Rep. Jenny Horne to pass the bill without any changes.
“I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday,” said Horne, in tears. “If we amend this bill, we are telling the people of Charleston, ‘We don’t care about you. We do not care that somebody used this symbol of hate to slay (nine) innocent people who were worshiping their God.’”
Horne was referring to the June 17 slaying of Rev. and Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight of his parishioners at Charleston’s historic black Emanuel AME Church by a white gunman who had posted a racist manifesto online and pictures of himself holding the rebel flag. Horne later said she went to the podium without prepared comments, but wanted to voice her frustration with what she said were efforts to kill the bill by making changes to it.
House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford referred to Horne’s comments as bold, adding they happened “right at that moment when we needed to put into perspective why we were here.
“It wasn’t just about the heritage of the flag,” Rutherford said. “It was about the nine people who were killed in Charleston.”
Earlier in the night, Republican lawmakers refused to heed a call by Haley, who stressed the need for the flag and its pole to come down during a closed-door caucus meeting. Laurens Republican Rep. Mike Pitts, for example, said he took his hearing aids out when Haley spoke to the Caucus. Pitts filed dozens of amendments, initially withdrew 26, but later refiled the majority of them.
House members received the bill Tuesday after the Senate gave it a final approval with a 37-3 vote. The House went into session at 10 a.m., Wednesday, and Republicans met as a caucus twice to hash out their differences.
The most divisive amendment was filed by Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Cayce. It ordered the Confederate Relic Room to create a display for the battle flag when it’s removed. But proponents of the bill argued any changes would delay its passing.
After nearly three hours, Quinn asked his colleagues to scrap his amendment because the debate had gotten out of control. He also said he had received assurances the Senate would also pass a separate resolution that calls for the same display.
“I did what I believed was right,” Quinn said after the vote. “I didn’t want the amendment to be the cause for the delay on voting on the issue.”
The final amendment that stood in the way of the vote was one that would have replaced the battle flag with the South Carolina State flag; a proposal Charleston Republican Rep. Jim Merrill supported. He added, however, he favored the final vote that removed the flag. “I think it’s good for the state of South Carolina,” Merrill said. “It needed to happen.”
Reach Cynthia Roldan 708-5891.
S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard (center) talks with Reps. Chip Limehouse and Mike Sottile Wednesday as the House prepares to debate a bill to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.×
State Rep. John King, right, D-York, hugs a woman after the House approved a bill removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds early Thursday in Columbia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)×
Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, left, embraces Rev. Jesse Jackson after the House approved a bill removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds early Thursday in Columbia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)×
Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Williamsburg, right, hugs an unidentified man after the House approved a bill removing the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds early Thursday in Columbia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)×
Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, get emotional as she speaks during debate over a Senate bill calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the Capitol grounds Wednesday in Columbia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)×
A Confederate battle flag flies in front of the South Carolina statehouse Wednesday in Columbia.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)×