Pay Attention to the Bills Lawmakers Just Filed

December 18, 2015

Investigative Reports

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South Carolina Statehouse Dome

Prefiled bills would curtail roll-call requirement, turn crime victims into criminals, expunge lawmakers’ misdemeanors, and more.

The legislative session starts with pre-filed legislations. And, as SCPC Research Associate Shane McNamee puts it in his analysis of the bills, “if the bill are a good indication of the mentality of legislators heading into 2016, it’s going to be a challenging year for advocates of liberty.”

He’s right – click here to check out his quick analysis of all the bills filed so far for next year’s legislative session, which starts January 12.  The worst are right up front, but some bills are less obviously dangerous, and that’s where the potential for trouble lies.

Even the most frivolous resolution can demonstrate legislative intent or pose a hidden conflict of interest. These bills also reveal the disturbing trend to erode our constitutional rights. From heavily restrictive gun legislation to more proposals to turn citizens into criminals, lawmakers seem determined to ignore the public and behave as rulers.

The Second Amendment appears to take the worst beating – 15 bills threaten it, including a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” a term McNamee correctly points out was created by politicians to mean whatever is convenient to them. Another bill would create a full state registry for all guns – as if criminals will dutifully report their weapons cache to the state. And then there’s the bill to require citizens to get a permit, which comes with mandated and burdensome training, merely in order to purchase a firearm that does or could – get this – “expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.” In other words, pretty much any gun.

A bill that may not be the most restrictive but that could be termed “most likely to pass if we don’t pay attention” would make it a crime to fail to immediately report the loss or theft of a handgun to law enforcement. I’m not sure how many laws make it a crime not to report a crime, but this one would. And since our lawmakers like legislation vague and thus open to interpretation, citizens can become criminals for failing to notice a gun has been taken, forcing a default trip through the criminal justice system to prove they didn’t know the gun was missing.

The thief is the criminal, not the victim. Reporting the gun stolen “immediately” is no guarantee a crime would be prevented, but it would create more criminals.

So would a couple of food stamp bills to force healthy eating for food stamp recipients. Again – sounds reasonable, but who will enforce that law and what is the punishment for buying a TV dinner with more corn syrup than the law allows?

Another bill would allow law enforcement to photograph a motor vehicle with an illegal defect (a broken taillight? a busted headlight?), contact the owner by phone or mail to inform them of the defect and give them 30 days to fix it AND notify the agency that it’s fixed or face a motor vehicle violation. The only good reason for this bill is revenue collection – which is not a good reason. The bill may not intend to create a new area of “probable cause,” but it’s hard to argue no law enforcement officer could trespass onto private property to check out a car that looks like it could have a defect.

These laws aren’t necessary but they are dangerous, and they all do their part to add to a bureaucracy that if nothing else costs citizens more every year. And laws like this are less obviously bad, which makes them worse.

Speaking of obviously bad, I’ll close with two bills that protect our politicians. One would allow ALL misdemeanors to be eligible for expungement from a record – which is ludicrous, of course. Now why would they propose that? Perhaps because there’s only one felony the entire Ethics Act – all the rest of our weak anti-corruption laws are mere misdemeanors (the root of the problem).  If this law isn’t intended to clear corrupt politicians’ criminal records, it certainly could be used to do just that – and much more easily so, for the legislators who pick the judges than for anyone else.

Finally, there’s the attempt to eliminate the requirement proposed by SCPC for a recorded vote on all sections of the budget, in addition to on all other bills. That law was the first big win for citizens to restore their control of government, and five years later lawmakers are trying to get rid of it.

Perhaps if lawmakers followed the state law requiring budget transparency we’d be less concerned. But they don’t. Citizens are tired of demanding reform only to get worse laws every year that openly try to expand legislative power. It’s time they read the tea-leaves at home: citizens want more accountability, not less.

Ashley Landess is president of the S.C. Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization.