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Open carry, hate crime bills clear deadline in S.C. Statehouse

By JEFFREY COLLINS and MICHELLE LIU Associated Press
COLUMBIA (AP) — Thursday marked a key deadline in the 2021 South Carolina General Assembly.
It’s called the crossover deadline. Bills that pass the House or the Senate after Thursday will need a two-thirds vote from the other chamber to get on the calendar. That makes it hard to pass any issues that have opposition.
This is the first year of a two-year session. Bills that don’t pass this year stay in the same place when the Legislature returns in 2022.
Here’s where some bills stand after the crossover deadline.
LAWS
The governor has signed into law a measure that will restore small annual raises for teachers that were paused because of the economic uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. The ” step increases ” are raises of several hundred dollars a year given annually as teachers gain experience. Teachers will get the money in a lump sum at the end of the school year. Lawmakers set aside $50 million for the increases.
The Legislature passed a law that would ban nearly all abortions in the state, but it was immediately challenged by opponents and has been suspended by a federal judge. The measure prevents an abortion when the heartbeat of a fetus can be detected, typically around six weeks into a pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant.
PASSED ONE CHAMBER
A Senate-passed bill would allow the state to borrow up to $550 million to expand the port in Charleston with more rail lines and a barge that could carry containers from one terminal to another. The House hasn’t taken up the bill yet, with leaders saying they want to also consider just paying for the expansion outright without borrowing, if the state can afford it.
The House approved a bill that would allow anyone with a current concealed-weapons permit in South Carolina to carry their gun openly instead of hidden under a coat. The House also passed a bill that would do away with gun permits and allow anyone who can legally own a gun to carry one. The Senate has not considered either proposal.
The Senate approved a bill allowing South Carolina to restart executions after almost a decade by requiring inmates to choose either the electric chair or a firing squad if lethal injection isn’t available. South Carolina’s supply of the drugs needed to kill an inmate expired several years ago and they haven’t been able to buy more. The House is considering a similar bill without the firing squad option, but could choose to approve the Senate version.
The Senate passed a proposal that would prevent lawsuits against businesses and other groups by people who contract COVID-19 as long as federal and state health guidelines were being followed. The bill faces an uncertain future in the House, where leaders said they wondered if it was necessary.
The House passed a bill to make South Carolina the 48th state to allow additional punishment if a crime is motivated by hate. Businesses want the proposal. Lawmakers have repeatedly tweaked its provisions, first removing, then adding back protections for gay or transgender people. The current proposal removes stalking and harassment from the crimes that would qualify for the hate crime addition.
The House approved a bill allowing the state to reopen bids for a private company to buy state-owned utility Santee Cooper. The proposal would also replace the entire board that runs the electric company. The Senate Judiciary Committee sent to the Senate floor its own reform proposal that would have the state Supreme Court hear rate disputes and limit board members to two terms, among a broad range of reforms. Whatever emerges from each chamber will likely requires hours of discussion and compromise if anything can be sent to the governor.
BILLS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE DEADLINE
A proposal to allow medical marijuana use in South Carolina is on the Senate floor. The bill doesn’t allowing smoking marijuana, only using it as an oil. Doctors would have to prescribe marijuana after an in-person visit and create a written treatment plan. The marijuana would be given out in special dispensaries, not by pharmacists.
The Senate is considering a bill to standardize the appearance of the state flag. A Senate committee chose a more symmetrical palmetto tree over a more natural look. But they acknowledge there will likely be other versions proposed as amendments on the Senate floor. The shade of indigo and the crescent in the corner have been less controversial. South Carolina has never standardized the flag design, and as a result the flags in state buildings are not all the same.
BILLS LIKELY DEAD IN 2021
A measure that would have prevented transgender students from playing on girls’ sports teams in middle and high school in South Carolina appears to be dead for the year. The House Judiciary Committee tabled the bill without a recorded vote and supporters did not push to get a special provision for a ban into the state budget. A second, similar bill passed out of a House subcommittee Thursday — still too late for the crossover deadline.

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