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Education overhaul, Uber safety make SC Legislature deadline

April 10, 2019 GMT
South Carolina House lawmakers vote on several bills Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Columbia, S.C., prior to the crossover deadline, a requirement that says a bill must pass either the House or the Senate to be considered by the other chambers with less than a two-thirds vote. (AP Photo/Christina L. Myers)
South Carolina House lawmakers vote on several bills Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Columbia, S.C., prior to the crossover deadline, a requirement that says a bill must pass either the House or the Senate to be considered by the other chambers with less than a two-thirds vote. (AP Photo/Christina L. Myers)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A bill that would overhaul the state education system and another to improve ride share safety have made an important deadline in the South Carolina General Assembly.

Wednesday’s crossover deadline says a bill must pass either the House or the Senate to be considered by the other chambers with less than a two-thirds vote. Bills that have made that hurdle include an education overhaul bill that passed the House but is crawling through the Senate. Other bills that made the deadline include one on fentanyl trafficking, and a bill adding felony charges for torturing a child.

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The deadline is not as important in 2019, which is the first of a two-year legislative session, and bills that did not pass survive to 2020. This year’s legislative session ends May 9.

Bills that made Wednesday’s deadline:

EDUCATION OVERHAUL:

The House passed a massive bill overhauling South Carolina’s education system back in early March.

The bill would raise minimum starting teacher pay to $35,000 a year, give the state education superintendent more ability to take over low-performing school districts and create a $100 million fund to help bring businesses to places where schools are poor and struggling.

But passing education reform is far from a sure thing. The Senate started with a similar bill, but a subcommittee has spent three months making significant changes and sent only a part of it to the full Education Committee. If any education overhaul components get out of that committee, a vigorous debate is expected on the Senate floor.

Lawmakers do expect to increase teacher salaries in the state budget. The Senate will debate the budget next week.

CHILD TORTURE:

Legislation to impose felony charges on a parent or guardian who tortures children in South Carolina passed the Senate on Tuesday, and is now before the House.

The legislation defines torture as a pattern of assaults, psychological maltreatment or omissions of care that causes severe physical, mental or emotional pain over a period of time. The abuse causes serious physical or psychological injury up to death, according to the bill.

The author of the bill, Sen. Katrina Shealy, said it is essential to protect the well-being of children and prosecute child abuse and neglect cases.

LAWSUIT REFORM:

The Senate has passed a bill that would nearly double the amount people can get when they sue state or local governments over deaths and injuries.

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Under the current law, individuals can get no more than $300,000 and a group of people can only split a maximum of $600,000 when the government causes them personal harm. Those caps have not been changed in two decades.

The bill that passed Tuesday would raise the cap to $500,000 per individual and $1 million for a group. It has been sent to the House.

Supporters of the bill said funeral and medical costs have risen rapidly in 20 years, so payouts need to increase too. Opponents of the bill said local governments would need to raise taxes or cut services because the new caps mean their insurance rates would rise.

DRONES:

Proposed legislation by Democratic Sen. Thomas McElveen of Sumter would ban the operation of a drone near military bases unless the drone operator is given written consent from the manager of the facility or their designee. If approved, the drone flight must also meet flight requirements outlined by the Federal Aviation Administration. The legislation passed the Senate on Tuesday.

FENTANYL TRAFFICKING:

Legislation to create a criminal statute for trafficking fentanyl or fentanyl related substances has also met the crossover threshold. The opioid related bill, written by Republican Rep. Russell Fry, passed the House on Tuesday.

According to the bill, those convicted of possessing four grams or more of fentanyl or a mixture of the substance may face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of no more than $50,000 for the first offense and no more than 20 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine on the second or subsequent offenses.

RIDE-SHARING SAFETY:

The House gave final approval Wednesday to legislation to require drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride sharing companies to have a lighted company sign in their vehicles.

The proposal was spearheaded by Democratic Rep. Seth Rose and Republican Rep. Micah Caskey. It was named after Samantha Josephson, the University of South Carolina student who was later found dead after entering a vehicle she mistook for her Uber ride without checking the license plate or confirming the driver’s identity, authorities said.

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Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.

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