Bills borrowing for schools, roads meet crossover deadline

The South Carolina Statehouse

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Bills to borrow money to repair South Carolina’s crumbling roads and public schools are among those clearing Sunday’s crossover deadline, while measures not likely to make it include those strengthening penalties for killing a K-9.

Under House and Senate rules, bills that advance from one chamber to the other after May 1 require a two-thirds vote to even be considered. That’s rarely possible for measures that are at all controversial.

Because this is an election year, bills that don’t become law this session officially die. Continuing debate on a bill next year would require reintroducing it and restarting the hearing process.

The session ends June 2.

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South Carolina could borrow up to $200 million annually to repair and replace deteriorating K-12 public schools under legislation sent Wednesday to the Senate.

The measure, approved 98-5 by the House, is meant to partly address the state Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling that the Legislature must do more to provide educational opportunities in poor, rural school districts.

Borrowing would be more than a year away. The bill first requires a statewide evaluation of districts’ infrastructure needs. Legislators would then receive a priority list of projects approved by the State Board of Education, to be updated yearly.

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The Senate voted 34-4 Wednesday to approve a bill that borrows $2.2 billion to pay for highway construction.

If enacted, the proposal would free up other money the Department of Transportation can use to replace bridges and pave roads, allowing for $4 billion total worth of work over 10 years, said Secretary Christy Hall.

The borrowing would be funded with $200 million annually — over 15 years — from vehicle sales taxes and certain fees.

Senators praised the plan as a way to jump-start improvements but caution it’s not a long-term solution.

After nearly two years of debate, a separate road-funding measure has been reduced to a government restructuring bill. Gov. Nikki Haley wants full control of the DOT, now overseen by both a secretary appointed by the governor and a commission appointed by legislators. A panel of senators and House members is trying to work out a compromise on the chambers’ differing versions of reform.

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A bill barring law enforcement agencies from setting traffic ticket quotas crossed Wednesday to the Senate.

Rep. Justin Bamberg, its sponsor, said quotas pressures officers to stop people for minor offenses.

Bamberg, a Democrat, also represents the family of Walter Scott, the black man fatally shot as he ran from a North Charleston officer, charged with his murder. Scott was pulled over for a broken third brake light. His family says he likely fled because he feared going to jail for unpaid child support.

As passed unanimously by the House, Bamberg’s bill bars agencies from requiring officers to write a certain number of tickets. But it allows officers to be evaluated based on their “points of contact,” defined as their interactions with residents and involvement in community initiatives.

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A bill requiring people to use public bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex has yet to get a vote, despite drawing national attention.

A Senate panel took testimony, mostly from opponents, over two days earlier this month. Opposing Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said Wednesday the bill’s dead after “two hearings and a flush.”

Opponents say the unenforceable measure stokes misguided fears and endorses restroom vigilantism against transgender people, while supporters contend it’s about protecting the privacy and safety of women and children.

Its sponsor, GOP Sen. Lee Bright, said he will attempt to attach the proposal to the state budget. But the chance of that happening appears slim.

The measure’s opponents include Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and state business leaders.

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While a bill increasing penalties for people who kill or torture a police dog advanced Thursday to the Senate floor, that didn’t allow time to meet the crossover deadline.

A similar House bill is still in the committee process.

The measures would increase the maximum sentence to 10 years, which some legislators say is too much. Officers say criminals can get longer prison sentences for property crimes than killing a beloved partner and protector.

The bills were filed after Anderson County Sheriff’s K-9 Hyco was fatally shot in October as he and his handler chased three men who ran from a wrecked vehicle.