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SC House special session avoids anything but redistricting

December 1, 2021 GMT
South Carolina Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, looks over a map during a House redistricting committee public hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Govan was put into a district with another incumbent in the proposed House map. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
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South Carolina Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, looks over a map during a House redistricting committee public hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Govan was put into a district with another incumbent in the proposed House map. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
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South Carolina Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, looks over a map during a House redistricting committee public hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Govan was put into a district with another incumbent in the proposed House map. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House started its redistricting special session on Wednesday with an assurance that they will likely handle nothing but new maps for state House and Senate and U.S. House districts.

House members approved a resolution requiring them to take up redistricting as their first priority and stay on the bill until it gets all the way through the legislative process.

With only three days planned for the special session that wouldn’t give enough time to pass anything else.

The most conservative members of the Republican-dominated House want the chamber to take up bills banning mandates for vaccines or masks and other COVID-19 items. Several dozen protesters joined them in the Statehouse on Wednesday calling for “medical freedom.“

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“What you have before you today is a medical bill freedom killer,” said Rep. Jonathon Hill, a Republican from Townville. “It is very cleverly designed. I’ll hand it to the Speaker and the staff.”

Any attempts to address these types of pandemic issues already faced a high hurdle. They weren’t part of the original special session or parameters passed in June so it would’ve required a two-thirds vote to get them before the body.

But the 99-14 vote Wednesday for the resolution likely slams the door shut on considering anything else.

The resolution was passed by the House Rules Committee minutes before the special session started. Chairwoman Anne Thayer said the goal of the resolution wasn’t to stop discussion about anything else.

“I myself feel like there are other important pressing matters at hand that I would like to talk about as well,” the Republican from Anderson said.

Speaker Jay Lucas and other leaders did not respond to Hill’s comments.

The General Assembly is working on new maps for state House and Senate and U.S. House districts based on new population figures from the 2020 U.S. Census.

So far, the House has proposed new maps only for its own 124 districts. They typically rubber-stamp the Senate’s plan for its own maps. And only the Senate has proposed a U.S. House map.

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The House maps have been criticized as breaking up some like-minded communities in order to protect incumbents and assure Republicans maintain their current balance of power. Critics argue the maps should have kept like-minded communities intact and not dilute minority voting power.

An analysis of the proposed House districts by the Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project determined they would likely see 83 Republicans elected — two more than the GOP’s current advantage among the 124 seats.

Members of the special House committee that drew the districts said their plan maintained more districts likely to elect minority candidates than even the plans from groups like the League of Women Voters.

South Carolina added more than 500,000 people over the past decade to grow its population to 5.1 million. But the growth was far from balanced with most people moving to the coast, Greenville and Spartanburg as well as the South Carolina suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.