Crossover week: Life and death for lawmakers’ bills

With just a few weeks remaining until the end of the legislative session, lawmakers rushed las week to make the deadline for bills to cross over between the House and Senate, giving them a chance to become law this year.

COLUMBIA — For lawmakers’ bills, crossover week can mean life or death.

The chaotic few days of voting that precede the final weeks of the legislative session determine which bills will cross over between the House and Senate by the May 1 deadline, and thus, have a chance of making it to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk before the end of the session June 4.

Bills that didn’t pass the House or Senate by the deadline have little hope of becoming law this year. It’s the first year of a two-year legislative cycle, so lawmakers can try again when the Legislature reconvenes in January without starting from scratch.

Among the handful of bills the Senate passed last week was the police body camera bill, which languished in committee until a cellphone video surfaced of the fatal shooting April 4 of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer. Michael Slager has since been fired and charged with murder.

The bill requires that all South Carolina law enforcement officers wear body cameras, and even with lawmakers rallying behind it after the Scott shooting, backers had to allay colleagues’ concerns Wednesday that it infringed on privacy rights.

“It took a lot of hard work and focus to advance the bill out of the Senate before crossover,” said a sponsor, Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston. “Timing was short given where we were with the calendar, and we had to work extra hard to make the bill advance.”

The Senate also approved, on a tight 22-20 vote, a 1.1-percent fee on cellphone bills that would help subsidize rural landlines.

The money would go into the Universal Service Fund, which was created in 1997 to help low-income homes get phone service. Currently, the $31 million-a-year fund is paid for solely by landline customers, and proponents say it’s only fair to make cellphone users chip in.

Lastly, the Senate passed a bill that aims to protect children of suspected abuse or neglect that was sponsored by the three members of the Senate’s DSS Oversight Subcommittee: Sens. Tom Young, R-Aiken; Joel Lourie, D-Columbia; and Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington.

The bill allows for the release of prior medical records, without the consent of the parent or legal guardian, to a doctor examining a child because of a report of suspected child abuse or neglect. Shealy said the bill is needed because a parent or guardian abusing a child is unlikely to willingly release the records.

“Being able to access medical records is crucial to determine whether a child has been abused or not,” Shealy said. “We’re trying to protect children.”

Across the hall, the House took up “Certificate of Need,” sending a bill to the Senate that would end the complex tangle of health care regulations.

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Ending the law would mean hospitals could expand and build new health care facilities without the state’s permission. Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said he knows big hospital chains that support the law will lobby the Senate to retain Certificate of Need.

“(Certificate of Need) restricts the amount of doctors or hospitals in a particular area,” Merrill said. “That’s why I oppose it, because I think if a hospital wants to invest right next to another hospital, they should be able to do it.”

The House also passed a consumer-protection bill by Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, that aims to keep Palmetto State’s drivers from being sold an “unmounted, unsafe” used tire. The bill has several definitions for an “unsafe” tire.

One bill that didn’t make the cut was sponsored by Charleston Republican Rep. Chip Limehouse and would have barred using Islamic or Shariah law as a basis for defense in a South Carolina courthouse. Limehouse has said he planned to change the bill to include all foreign laws to avoid a court challenge, but the bill never got out of committee.

“The nature of the legislative process is slow, slow, slow,” Limehouse said. “I’m disappointed that it didn’t become a law this year, but it’s not uncommon for a piece of legislation to be introduced and have it take two or three legislative sessions before it becomes a law.”

Thad Moore contributed to this report. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.