Legislative Update: 5 Bills in the Statehouse

The conservative-wave election that took place this past November in South Carolina launched a flood of conservative legislation — much of which, at this writing, is still working its way through the Statehouse.

The most significant victory so far has been the passage of the Heartbeat Bill. While it is true that the bill was enjoined by the courts within 24 hours of its passage, the fact that South Carolina became the 11th state to pass a heartbeat bill sent positive shock waves through the state and national pro-life community.

The bill is being contested in the courts with the hope that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in our favor or that the Supreme Court will agree to take it up. The bill is currently in Federal District Court, where Judge Mary Lewis has enjoined the bill until a motion can be considered as to whether or not House Speaker Jay Lucas and Gov. Henry McMaster can join Attorney General Alan Wilson as intervenors on behalf of the bill.

So-called medical marijuana is back on the agenda for this legislative session. I am working with representatives from the law enforcement community, the medical community, Palmetto Family, and several other conservative grassroots organizations to keep this bill from becoming law. It is being referred to as “The Compassionate Care Act,” but it is merely a prelude to the legalization of recreational marijuana. The medical use of marijuana has not been approved by the FDA, and therefore cannot be prescribed by a doctor or dispensed by a pharmacy.

Other bills under consideration include H3477, the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The bill generated enough testimony in the Special Laws subcommittee of the House Judiciary to require two separate hearings over two consecutive weeks. The purpose of the bill is to protect high school and middle school girls from having to compete against men who identify as female. It is also designed to protect the privacy of female athletes in the locker room. In a surprise last-minute move, State School Superintendent Molly Spearman came out against the passage of the bill, but the members of the subcommittee voted to send the bill to the full Judiciary. The State Board of Education put out a statement opposing the bill.

On Tuesday, March 16, the full House Judiciary, with many members objecting, responded to pressure brought by those who wanted to derail the bill and voted to table it, essentially killing it for this legislative session. I am currently working with several conservative organizations to try and revive the bill in the Senate or find another way in the House to get the bill passed before the end of the session.

The “Religion is Essential” bill passed the House by a vote of 86 to 29. This bill codifies houses of worship as essential in South Carolina, therefore offering some measure of assurance that they will not be shut down in the event a future governor finds it necessary to declare a state of emergency. While Gov. McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson honored our religious freedom during COVID-19 restrictions, there is no guarantee a future administration would respect religious liberty with the same determination of the current administration. This bill protects religious liberty in emergency situations.

The “Hate Crimes” bill — a bill that would enhance penalties for crimes motivated by hate, bigotry, or prejudice — was considered by the Constitutional Laws Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. South Carolina is one of three states (Wyoming and Arkansas are the other two) without a hate crimes law. The bill was amended to remove a section that would have allowed individuals to bring a civil action against another individual, with or without an underlying court case. Other amendments to the bill include the removal of sexual orientation as a protected class and clarification of some of the sentencing language. The amended bill was unanimously recommended to the full Judiciary Committee, where it was amended and voted out to be considered by the House.

On March 16, the full Judiciary Committee amended the bill adding sexual orientation and gender back into the list of protected classes and removed harassment and stalking from hate crime enhancement. They also added SC Code 16-3-210 (any act of violence inflicted by a mob) to the list of crimes covered by Hate Crime enhancement. Adding sexual orientation and gender back into the bill is significant because if the bill becomes law, it will be the first time South Carolina has recognized these categories in any of our laws. We are working to get this language excluded from the bill.

— Tony Beam is senior director of Church and Community Engagement at North Greenville University and director of Public Policy for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

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