Crossover deadline nears for SC Legislature

Associated Press April 26, 2014 

— South Carolina’s House and Senate will be busy this week trying to meet a legislative deadline. Bills that haven’t advanced from one chamber to the other by Thursday have little chance of becoming law this year.

After the May 1 crossover deadline, bills require a two-thirds vote to even be considered by the other chamber for the session that ends June 5 – a high hurdle for contested measures. And since this is the end of a two-year session, bills that don’t pass this year officially die.

The following bills haven’t crossed over yet and are on legislative calendars for potential floor debate this week. They would:

• Update the state’s 26-year-old sex education law to require that students receive medically accurate information on how to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The measure also requires teachers be certified to teach the course and attempts to improve school district compliance. There’s currently no punishment in state law for noncompliance, and many districts don’t even fill out an annual, self-reported state survey on what’s taught and in what grades.

• Allow public schools to educate students about “traditional winter celebrations” and display scenes and symbols associated with them. Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, says his bill is needed to protect schools from a growing number of lawsuits over holiday displays. Under the bill, a religious icon such as a nativity scene must be either paired with a secular symbol or grouped with at least one other religion’s symbol. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union calls it an unnecessary bill that could be problematic because such a display should feature more than two things.

• Create a research university within the College of Charleston. The bill is a compromise of an earlier version that would have forced a merger between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina. Under the compromise, they would remain two separate colleges but collaborate to offer doctoral degrees as the University of Charleston, South Carolina. The state has three research universities: the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and MUSC. But the latter offers only medical degrees.

• Attempt to slow down drivers in highway construction zones by increasing penalties and state trooper presence. The bill creates the crime of endangering a highway worker for anyone speeding or ignoring traffic signs inside construction or utility work zones. Half of the increased fines would go to the Department of Public Safety to fund more troopers at the sites. The current fine for speeding in a work zone is $75 to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. The bill would increase that to between $500 and $1,000 if no one is injured, and up to $5,000 if injury results.

• Ask voters whether the state superintendent should be appointed by the governor, rather than publicly elected. One proposal would put that question on the November ballot, while another would specify what qualifications the state schools chief would need if voters approve the constitutional amendment. The idea has failed repeatedly over the last decade. Superintendent Mick Zais says having the superintendent work directly for the governor will improve accountability for improving public schools.

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