S.C. Lawmakers End Session, Pass Road Safety Bills, No Road Funding

South Carolina lawmakers ended their regular session for the year at 5 o'clock Thursday, having passed two major road safety bills but not passing a road funding plan.

They passed a statewide ban on texting while driving. 43 other states and the District of Columbia already ban texting and driving by all drivers.

They also passed Emma's Law. It's named for 6-year-old Emma Longstreet, who was killed by a repeat drunken driver. The law requires first-time DUI offenders with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher to put ignition interlocks on their cars. A driver blows into the interlock and if the device detects alcohol, the car won't start.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, who helped push the law through the Senate, says, "What this law has done in other states, I think we'll look back two or three years from now and see that it had a very measurable impact in bringing down highway deaths."

Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, who sponsored the House version of the bill, says, "If you look at what's happened in other states where they've adopted similar legislation, I mean it's been proven to save lives, and I think that's one of the big victories of this session. It's one of the most important bills we've passed."

But while those bills might protect drivers from other drivers who are drunk or distracted by texting, lawmakers did not pass a road-funding plan.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, says, "We've got a $29 billion hole that we've got to fill and the governor's handicapped the leaders of both bodies and said, 'Look, I'm going to take the gas tax off the table.'"

The SCDOT estimates it would need an additional $29 billion over the next 20 years to bring state roads and bridges up to good condition. Gov. Nikki Haley has said repeatedly she would veto any gas tax increase or license fee hike.

Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, pushed for the increases anyway, but was unsuccessful. "We have to create new revenue streams, and that requires people to make hard choices and it's hard in an election year to get people to do it," he says. "And when you think the bill's going to be vetoed, it gives you less incentive to do it."

But House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, says lawmakers passed a plan last year to spend $1 billion on roads, money that's being spent this year. "Would I have wanted to have $1 billion in additional money to put into roads this year? Yes. Was that possible under the constraints of the budget now without raising taxes? No. So it's a process and we're working on it," he says.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that will allow people with severe epilepsy to use CBD oil, which comes from the cannabis plant. The oil contains only trace amounts of the mind-altering substance in marijuana, but has been shown to lessen or eliminate seizures.

Jill Swing's 6-year-old daughter Mary Louise has hundreds of seizures a day, even though she's taking two medications now. "Once we have access to it, we'll kind of know," she says. "It doesn't work for everybody, just like seizure medications don't work for everybody. But if she can have seizure control I think it's really going to change her life."

Lawmakers adopted a final budget that includes $180 million for the governor's plan to improve rural schools. It also includes $20 million to expand a pilot kindergarten program for 4-year-olds in the highest-poverty school districts in the state. There's also $18 million for new school buses, and $10.4 million for computer security upgrades after a hacker got into the state Department of Revenue's computers.

Lawmakers will go back to Columbia June 17th, possibly through the 19th, to take up any of the governor's vetoes.


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