Gas Tax, School Bus Seatbelts, Guns in Schools Among SC Senate Prefiled Bills

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina state senators prefiled almost 200 bills Tuesday in preparation for next year’s session that starts in January, including a gas tax increase, allowing teachers to have guns in schools, and requiring school buses to have seatbelts.

The gas tax increase was prefiled by senators Bennett, Campbell, Turner, and Hembree. It would phase in a 12-cents-per gallon increase and would also tie the gas tax to inflation. South Carolina has the second-lowest gas tax in the nation at 16.75 cents a gallon, which hasn’t been increased since 1987. The money would go to the state’s roads and bridges. The bill would also increase driver’s license fees and vehicle registration fees to raise more money for roads.

Two bills would allow teachers and school administrators who have concealed weapons permits to carry at school. Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens, prefiled one of them. It would create a new “institutional CWP,” which would require annual training at the state Criminal Justice Academy. “I’m wanting to start the conversation about responsible self-protection in our public campus settings, from elementary school right on up to college campuses,” he says. “We need more campus security. We need more protection in the schools. But for those situations where only self-protection would have saved life, I want to have that conversation here in South Carolina.”

The second bill was prefiled by Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, and is called “Jacob Hall’s Law.” Jacob Hall was the 6-year-old boy who was killed in September’s shooting at Townville Elementary School. Anderson Rep.  Joshua Putnam plans to file a similar bill, also called “Jacob Hall’s Law,” in the House. Both bills would also allow school personnel who have CWPs to carry their guns at school.

Protecting school children is also a priority for Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia. She prefiled a bill to require school buses in the state to have seatbelts by the start of school in 2019. She filed the same bill last year but says she was prompted to try again after the school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee last month that killed six children. “If those students had been buckled in, it could’ve saved some lives, and even if it saves one life, to me it’s that important, so I’m not interested in doing nothing,” she says. Cost will be a concern, since retrofitting the entire school bus fleet would cost tens of millions of dollars. Sen. McLeod says she’s open to suggestions, including possibly phasing in seatbelts so all new buses are required to have them but older buses wouldn’t be retrofitted.

She also prefiled a bill to change the state’s disturbing schools law, which critics say has been used to arrest too many students for behavior that used to be handled within the school. She says her bill would put the disturbing schools law back to its original intent, which was to prevent outsiders from coming into a school and disrupting it.

You can see the entire list of prefiled bills here. (http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess122_2017-2018/spref17/pref17s1.htm)