SC lawmakers could return for abortion legislation, but not for hate crimes bill

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 8:07 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 8:09 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Once the clocks struck 5 p.m. at the South Carolina State House on Thursday, the General Assembly’s 2022 regular legislative session came to a close, and with it, lawmakers will head home for the rest of the year.

However, they will need to return to Columbia for some outstanding business and could be called back for other matters, including potential new abortion legislation.

Before putting a close on the legislative session, lawmakers agreed to a sine die resolution.

Sine die is a Latin phrase meaning “without a day.” A sine die agreement outlines the reasons for which they can come back to Columbia at some unspecified date after the regular session ends.

“The question is, do we adopt the sine resolution to govern the times and occasions to deal with these matters, or do we let the governor call us back?” outgoing House Speaker Jay Lucas (R – Darlington) told the House of Representatives while explaining the proposal this week. “And as fond as I am of the governor, I think he should be responsible for his schedule, and we should be responsible for our schedule.”

While this year’s agreement contained usual inclusions, such as finalizing the upcoming state budget and considering gubernatorial vetoes, it also stipulates lawmakers could be called back to take up abortion legislation, allowing for a potentially more restrictive bill to be debated if the U.S. Supreme Court opens the door for one.

South Carolina’s current Fetal Heartbeat Law, signed into law last year, is already one of the most restrictive in the country. It would ban most abortions after around six weeks, but courts have blocked it from taking effect since shortly after it became law.

A recently leaked draft opinion suggested a majority of Supreme Court justices were ready to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which currently guarantees access to abortions nationwide.

With that decision anticipated around June, based on the timing of previous court rulings, South Carolina’s sine die resolution would allow the House Speaker and Senate President to call their members back to take up a response beginning July 1.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) said he was hopeful the ultimate Supreme Court ruling was along similar lines as the leaked draft opinion but noted Thursday that it was still a leaked draft and not a final opinion.

However, he said leadership in both chambers felt it was important to have the ability to respond to a ruling in the agreement.

“We wanted to make sure that we had time for people to be heard and make sure we got it right and we have time to digest whatever the opinion is, and then we’ll do it the right way. I think that’s something that everybody, especially on our side, is interested in dealing with,” Massey told reporters Thursday.

Senate Democrats also pushed to include South Carolina’s hate crimes bill in the resolution.

The legislation, which would attach more severe penalties for violent crimes determined to be hate crimes, passed the House with bipartisan support last year but stalled on the Senate calendar without getting a floor debate this year because of Republican opposition.

Throughout the session, Democrats had been making pleas in the chamber to bring about a debate on the bill, which is named in memory of late State Sen. the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was one of the nine people murdered in a racist attack at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 2015.

“We’ve had conversations with many of those who are opposed, and we think we’re making some headway on this. We’re not sure we can get this bill passed, but if we don’t put it in sine die, we’ll have to go all the way back through the House next year,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said to his colleagues Tuesday.

“Let us just put it in this sine die. Let us vote it up or down,” Sen. Darrell Jackson (D-Richland) echoed.

However, senators ultimately voted to exclude the hate crimes bill from the resolution in a 25-20 vote, with five Republicans joining Democrats to support its inclusion. The bill’s exclusion ended any hope of further talks on this bill for this year, so it would need to be re-filed at the start of next year.

Under the sine die resolution, the General Assembly will first reconvene in Columbia on June 15 to take up conference committee reports — negotiations on the final versions of bills that passed both chambers — including the state budget, vetoes from the governor, and appointments. They could also discuss ongoing redistricting legislation, which is currently being disputed in court.

Then on June 28, lawmakers would meet again to take up gubernatorial vetoes to the budget.

The resolution applies until after the November general election, when every House seat is up for grabs, meaning a reconvening to take up abortion legislation could come later in the summer or the fall. Senators are not up for re-election this year.

Gov. Henry McMaster has indicated his support for the General Assembly’s return for this matter, telling reporters that he would call them back into session to take up the issue if it was necessary.

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