By Jeffrey Collins

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The 2024 regular session of the South Carolina General Assembly ended Thursday and will perhaps be better remembered for the things that didn’t pass.

South Carolina remains one of just two states along with Wyoming to not have a hate crimes bill. A proposal allowing medical marijuana again made it through the Senate only to die across the Statehouse lobby in the House.

Liquor stores won’t be open on Sunday any time soon. A bill to widely expand private school vouchers was pushed hard by House leaders but got nowhere in the Senate. And a proposal to consolidate several state health agencies died on a procedural motion in the session’s final minutes.

There were some new laws passed big and small. Anyone who can legally own a weapon can now openly carry a gun. Bills banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, removing the sales tax on feminine hygiene products and revising the state’s law about compensating college athletes are awaiting the governor’s signature.

And bills that would change the committee that screens judges and change the state’s energy policy are headed to conference committees of three senators and three House members to see if differences between the chambers can be worked out.

But in the end, it was the things that didn’t get done that highlight the end of this two-year legislative session.

Any bills that don’t get through both chambers die Thursday and must be reintroduced in January with the next session. All 170 General Assembly members are up for election, so bills could face a much different legislative environment in 2025.

HATE CRIMES

For the second session in a row, the usually more conservative South Carolina House passed a bill allowing enhanced penalties for crimes that prosecutors could prove were fueled by race, gender or sexual orientation.

And that bill again died in the Senate without a floor vote.

Supporters of the bill think it would pass the Senate if it got a vote. But a few of the chamber’s most conservative senators have kept the bill bottled up on the Senate calendar. They have said little publicly, but suggest many crimes are caused by hatred, and that it is dangerous to try to divine someone’s thoughts.

Backers of the bill have worked hard. In 2022, they brought in major companies to push for the law so South Carolina wasn’t an outlier with Wyoming. Last year, they brought out two of the three survivors of the Charleston church massacre where nine Black worshippers were killed in 2015.

They promise to come back in 2025, but they could face a more conservative House and Senate.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Across the Statehouse, for the second session the Senate passed a bill allowing medical marijuana that died in the House.

This year, the bill never got out of a House committee. In 2023, House leadership killed it on a technicality, saying it raised revenue and that kind of bill had to start in the House.

Republican Sen. Tom Davis has relentlessly pushed for the bill for nearly a decade. He has promised over and over again that he has no intent to allow recreational marijuana use. Smoking the drug for medical use would be illegal and the marijuana could be obtained only through specially chosen pharmacies.

He said he will be back if reelected and lobby every House member himself if he has to.

“It’s difficult to rewire a lot of people who have been conditioned to think of marijuana in a certain way and that factory session, or hard wiring is particularly pronounced in South Carolina,” Davis said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said it will be up to the new crop of senators to decide if they want to take up and pass the bill a third time.

Republican House Speaker Murrell Smith said he didn’t hear a lot of complaints that the bill didn’t make it to the House floor.

“I did not sense there was support in our body,” Smith said.

EDUCATION VOUCHERS

Before a pilot program allowing parents to spend taxpayer money on private and home-school education even started or the state Supreme Court decided if it was legal, the House started pushing to open it up to all parents.

The Senate never took up the bill after the House approved it.

The education scholarship trust fund program was enacted into law last year with a cap of $6,000 for 5,000 students. The money can go toward tuition, transportation, supplies or technology at either private schools or public schools outside a student’s district. Over three years, the current program expands to a $120,000 family income cap and a limit of 15,000 students.

The House bill would open the program to all students and the amount given to parents would be set to rise along with spending per public school student.

SUNDAY LIQUOR SALES

Also dying quietly was a bill that would allow liquor stores to stay open on Sundays for a few hours if their local governments allow it.

The proposal passed the House, but did not get heard on the Senate floor.

Supporters said it is time to update antiquated, centuries-old rules based on religion that designated Sunday as a day of rest. They said it would help businesses — especially those frequented by tourists who spend well over $20 billion annually in South Carolina and who are sometimes surprised to find they can’t get a bottle of tequila or rum on a summer beach day.

Opponents said small liquor stores will feel compelled to work another day because the corporate outlets will be open.

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