COLUMBIA — The end of the 2017 legislative session may have left some South Carolina residents feeling like winners, others like losers and some still awaiting for their fate.
After four months, House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, last week said he’s pleased with the amount of work the Legislature accomplished. But across the hall, Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said a session that is three weeks shorter has left him feeling rushed.
“We may need to revisit that next year,” Leatherman said.
Either way, lawmakers accomplished two of the state’s high priority items, while others were left hanging in the balance.
Bills that didn’t become law still have a chance, though. Since this is the first of a two-year session, legislation can continue to be considered in January.
Here’s a look at the winners, losers — and those in limbo — for the 2017 legislative session.
- Business community: After several years of failed attempts, South Carolina lawmakers voted to increase the state’s gas tax to raise money for road repairs — a move that the business community strongly urged legislators to take. Business leaders from across the state have said having improved, safer roads will enable them to efficiently transport the good they made, while some businesses also will profit from doing the work.
- State employees: Taking a step toward getting the retirement system for state workers on sound footing, lawmakers approved a plan that increases both employee and employer contributions to the pension plan. Many consider this a key move toward keeping the pension system solvent. Employees, however, will have to wait a couple of weeks to learn if they’ll get a bonus of up to $500 while lawmakers work out differences in the state’s budget.
- Farmers growing hemp: Twenty lucky farmers will soon be the state’s first allowed to grow and harvest industrial hemp after the Legislature approved a bill creating a pilot program in South Carolina. Farmers said the ability to diversify the crops they grow will not only benefit them, but the state as a whole. Industrial hemp can be made into oil, rope, clothing, paper, canvas, soap and even some food and drinks, such as butter and milk. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he will sign the bill, which went to his desk Tuesday.
- Gun activists: Those on both sides of the gun rights issue experienced some headway this year, only to have their hopes dashed with bills stalling in the Senate. Two bills that would expand access to guns cleared the House — one granting concealed weapons reciprocity with states that recognize South Carolina permits, and another that would allow South Carolinians to carry their guns openly or concealed without having to get a permit. Both bills have yet to be heard in the Senate. On the other side of the debate, a bill that aims to improve court reporting to a national database used for background checks — while extending the waiting period from three to five days for two years — had a hearing, but the meeting ended without a vote.
- Those with chronic illnesses: Advocates of medical marijuana were hopeful that the Legislature would approve its use for those suffering from chronic illnesses. However, similar versions of the bill stalled in each chamber without making much headway. A House panel gave initial approval to the measure, but a meeting was adjourned before it was sent it to the floor. In the Senate, lawmakers heard several days of testimony, but a vote was not held.
- Colleges: Leaders of state institutions of higher learning briefly thought they might get some much-needed help to repair and upgrade crumbling buildings on their campuses through a proposed $500 million borrowing plan. After McMaster said he did not support raising the gas tax and instead wanted to borrow money for roads, movement on a bond bill screeched to a halt. On Thursday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said it will be picked up in January.
- Anti-Semitism: On Thursday’s last day of the session, the Senate put the brakes on a bill that would spell out a specific definition of anti-Semitism on state college campuses. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he wanted more time to work on an amendment that will include actual language defining anti-Semitism within the text of the proposed law, instead of referring schools to a federal government fact sheet.
- Environmentalists: Several bills being fought by conservationists stalled in the Legislature, but proponents of the legislation believe the votes are there to get them passed next year. Bills aiming to limit the ability of conservationists to slow down development projects they contend could harm the environment stalled in the House. Lawmakers also used legislative maneuvers to delay another bill, which would have prohibited local governments from enacting plastic bag bans, until January.
- Women’s health: Two measures aiming to limit access to abortions in South Carolina stalled in the Statehouse. One proposal that would effectively ban the most common abortion procedure after 12 weeks of pregnancy cleared the House and has yet to have a hearing in the Senate. A second bill that would define a human being as a fertilized egg — effectively banning all abortions — got initial approval in the Senate. Additionally, a bill that would require health insurance plans to cover a 12-month prescription for birth control stalled in the Senate after being passed out of the House.