Townville (copy)

A school playground.

Around the time of my election to my first term in the state House last year there was an incident in Mount Pleasant where a man attempted to lure children to his van with the promise of seeing a puppy. As a mother, this story immediately caught my attention. I spoke to the family and to my dismay, law enforcement indicated the man could not be arrested nor charged with a crime. He couldn’t even be taken into custody for questioning.

Fast forward a few months, again in Mount Pleasant, and another man attempted to lure a child to his vehicle with a bucket of bubblegum. And then another incident, this time downtown on the peninsula during one of the farmer’s markets.

Again, the same response from law enforcement. As a mother, I asked myself: How could this be possible?

Well, in the state of South Carolina existing law is broadly written. So broadly written that law enforcement officers are helpless when it comes to “attempted luring.” Luring is different from kidnapping. Furthermore, South Carolina statutes do not specifically itemize elements of a crime of luring a minor.

Almost immediately after being elected, I began working with Rep. Lee Hewitt, R-Murrells Inlet, on legislation to remedy this gap in state law. This isn’t a publicity stunt as my colleague Rep. Chris Murphy, R-North Charleston, asserts. This is a real issue affecting real parents and their children.

H.3064 specifically criminalizes luring a minor and better defines unlawful acts involving minors. It sets the crime as a misdemeanor for children between the ages of 13 and 18; and for those who are under 13, the crime is a felony.

H.3064 does something else; it defines lawful conduct. This would include actions taken to prevent injury, enticing children into conveyances for lawful purposes (an emergency for instance); or where there is no intent to harm the child’s health, safety or welfare.

The bill also provides new penalties that are in addition to other related crimes. In speaking with lawyers, law enforcement, parents and local officials, courts are setting aside existing criminal statutes when they are unconstitutionally vague as is the case of existing law in South Carolina. Courts are looking for greater specificity in the law.

When this bill was filed last year, Chief Carl Ritchie of Mount Pleasant stated, “The current state kidnapping statute allows for law enforcement to make a charge of ‘attempted kidnapping,’ however it does not address the act of luring a child in the detail the proposed anti-luring law would provide. … As a law enforcement official with over 30 years’ experience I support the proposed anti-luring law and know it would better equip law enforcement agencies when dealing with situations outlined in the law and provide the level of protection our children deserve.”

These families have seen firsthand the inadequacies of state law when it comes to child luring. Protecting a child from a predator or human trafficking isn’t a difficult choice. And why anyone, especially a lawmaker who was elected to serve the people, would rather play politics than protect children is mind-boggling.

In the state House one person has all the power to hold up any piece of legislation when he or she is a committee chair. And such is the case for the anti-child luring bill. Rep. Murphy promised a hearing on this bill. But so far, no hearing has been scheduled. Instead, Rep. Murphy has resorted to making childish comments toward me on social media in response to growing pressure from parents demanding a hearing on this bill.

While I’m not taking the bait, I will fight for what’s right.

I respectfully request that Rep. Murphy, as chair of the Judiciary Criminal Law Subcommittee, stop playing politics and start listening to parents and law enforcement in the Lowcountry.

Nancy Mace is a Republican state representative from Daniel Island.

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