COLUMBIA — The General Assembly is more than halfway through the 2016 legislative session.
With a lot of items still to get to, frustration and anxiety have become the name of the game as both chambers spent weeks stuck in endless debates over varying bills.
Proposals that don’t become law by June 2 will die. Here’s an update:
The fight for restrictive and expansive gun bills has not really taken off as expected by members of both sides of the aisle. More than 50 bills are pending in the General Assembly that aim to reform gun laws or make it easier to own one.
But their progress was grim from the start. Most recently, Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, would not debate any more Senate bills this year.
“At this moment in time, we’ve got to focus on getting some House bills to the floor of the Senate so that we can expect similar treatment of Senate bills we’ve sent to the House,” Martin said. “I can’t spend staff and committee time focusing on a Senate bill that has no chance of passing.”
There is a gun-access bill that will likely become law by the end session: a House bill that would let South Carolina recognize Georgia’s concealed weapons permits. If it becomes law, South Carolinians with permits would be able to carry their guns into Georgia and vice versa.
The Senate continues to debate reforms to the state’s ethics law, but it suffered what some senators consider a minor blow last week.
The House bill calls for an independent panel to investigate lawmakers who are accused of wrongdoing. But a proposal that would have also made the bill require lawmakers disclose their sources of private income was ruled out of order on a technicality Thursday.
Martin, who proposed the changes that were shot down, said he still believes the Senate can approve bills that address all key areas of ethics reform individually.
“It just slows us down and it makes it harder to do,” he said. “It’s a setback. But I believe it’s very doable.”
After weeks of a continued filibuster in February, the Senate approved a roads funding plan in March. The House, which passed a different version of the roads bill, will debate the changes the Senate made this week.
The plan scraps proposed permanent streams of cash to the Department of Transportation, such as increases to vehicle-related fees and the gas tax, in favor of pulling $400 million from the state’s coffers.
The change has enraged House members who spent months crafting the original bill. Now the House has to either agree to the Senate changes or make their own.
On Thursday, Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, told the Transportation Infrastructure and Management Ad Hoc Committee the Senate’s plan was the worst thing since the German Army invaded Leningrad in World War II.
“Why do you want to take money out of the general fund and wreck our state budget?” said Limehouse. “We’re struggling with building roads and financing roads in South Carolina.”
Members of the House will begin discussing a bill that makes South Carolina the first state in the nation to require that resettled refugees join a registry so law enforcement can track them.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Delleney, R-Chester, has reportedly said he will take a close look at the bill the Senate has already passed when the chamber returns from break Tuesday.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, said the chamber recognizes that refugees coming to South Carolina is an important issue with their constituents.
“It won’t be ignored,” Pope said.
The bill also calls for holding liable organizations that assist in bringing refugees to South Carolina, if a resettled person commits a violent crime.
The House has worked with haste to address an order by the state Supreme Court concerning education.
In 2014, the court faulted the Legislature and more than a dozen school districts for failing to provide minimally adequate education to children in poor and rural areas. The high court ordered lawmakers to come up with a fix by the end of the 2016 session.
Though the House began working on the issue at the beginning of the session, the Senate has crawled toward a solution. The House has approved several measures addressing the ruling, including a proposal attached to the state’s roughly $7.5 billion budget. It would give teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in hopes of attracting quality instructors to rural areas.
But several lawmakers, including Orangeburg Democrat Reps. Jerry Govan and Gilda Cobb-Hunter, have voiced concern that the measures the House has already approved will not satisfy the court ruling.