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Senate Closes Session on Successful Note

June 6, 2008
Senate Closes Session on Successful Note

Columbia, SC - The South Carolina Senate closed the regular session
today still debating tough issues. 
In the waning moments of the session the Senate brokered an agreement
on the concealed weapons reciprocity bill (H.3212), which expands the
number of states recognizing South Carolina’s concealed weapons
permits to at least 27.  The Senate was also able to build consensus on
several DNA bills that were added as amendments to S.429, the final
details of a conference committee report will be considered when the
General Assembly reconvenes later this month for a final wrap-up
session. 

Overall this session was highlighted by reform measures being passed on
several high profile issues: illegal immigration, DUI, education, and
small business health care.  

“Immigration reform was the bright and shining star of this session,
because it took everyone working together to come up with a viable
solution,” says Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee).
“I would consider this a correction session.  The Senate made
significant changes to DUI, education and illegal immigration. I am most
pleased that despite a lean budget, we were able to put almost $100
million of new general fund money into K-12 education.”

The biggest topic of the year, immigration reform, came to a final
resolution this week when Governor Mark Sanford signed the South
Carolina Illegal Immigration Reform Act into law. The nation’s
strongest and most comprehensive immigration reform law was the result
of two years of work by Senate leaders, particularly Senator Jim Ritchie
(R-Spartanburg).

“After two years of hard work, South Carolina now has the strongest,
most comprehensive illegal immigration reform law in the country. In
addition to a strong E-Verify requirement for all employers, this law
addresses all of the key issues in the fight against illegal
immigration,” says Senator Ritchie.

The Senate passed a new DUI law this year that significantly increases
penalties for those convicted of DUI. The bill established a tiered
system of offenses and penalties. Those convicted of DUI for the first
time face the possibility of increased jail time and fines. The new
reform bill also removed many of the legal loopholes that have been
exploited in the past by defense attorneys. Senator Larry Martin
(R-Pickens) Chaired the Joint Legislative Conference Committee that
hammered out the final agreement on the bill.

“The Senate took two major steps in strengthening the state’s DUI
laws,” says Senator Martin. “First, the Senate removed the
cumbersome requirement that officers provide multiple roadside warnings
to those suspected of DUI. Second, the Senate created a tiered system
for first-time offenders that increases penalties for people whose blood
alcohol content is above .16.”

The Education Accountability Act became a big issue this session as
legislators discussed the elimination of the Palmetto Achievement
Challenge Test (PACT).  The ten-year-old test was scheduled to expire
and educators wanted to replace the test, which they claim does not
provide the individual assessments needed to benefit students. Senator
Wes Hayes (R-York) shepherded the bill through the Senate. 

“This is possibly the most important education bill that passed the
General Assembly this session,” says Senator Hayes. “This bill makes
some significant changes to the accountability system. Testing will not
only measure how our schools and students are performing, but will
provide teachers the diagnostic feedback needed to help individual
students improve.”

Small businesses are now able to join together to form “Healthcare
Cooperatives,” thanks in large part to the Senate Republican Caucus.
The law allows a group of 10 or more industry-related, small businesses
to join together for the purpose of purchasing group insurance, which
often provides cheaper rates than can be negotiated by an individual
business. Senator David Thomas (R-Greenville), Chairman of the Senate
Banking and Insurance Committee, was one of the top advocates for the
bill during the last two legislative sessions. 

“This law will increase the affordability of health insurance for
small business throughout South Carolina,” says Senator Thomas. “We
need to do all we can to help small business be as competitive as
possible, and this bill is a key step in that direction.”

The General Assembly is expected to return for no more than three
legislative days between June 17 and 27, to consider gubernatorial
vetoes, conference committee reports and a limited number of other items
outlined in the Sine Die resolution. 

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