- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Bills that aim to eventually equip law enforcement officers across South Carolina with body-worn cameras advanced Tuesday in the House and Senate.

Both chambers’ judiciary committees unanimously approved their separate proposals, sending them to their respective floors. The votes come two weeks after a bystander’s video of a North Charleston police officer fatally shooting a black man as he ran away prompted the officer’s arrest for murder.

The House bill essentially lets legislators postpone making decisions. As amended, it creates a six-month study of law enforcement agencies in South Carolina already using the cameras - estimated to number 20. Legislators could then create statewide policies next year.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, voted for the bill but criticized it as wasting time.

“We’re past that,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, the Senate’s main sponsor. “We don’t have time to wait. … This issue is dollars and cents at this point.”

How to fund the cameras remains a question. The Senate’s budget-writing committee may set aside money for the cameras in its 2015-16 state spending plan, though how much is unknown. The committee resumes budget discussions Wednesday.

The Senate bill leaves other details to the Law Enforcement Training Council. It directs the Criminal Justice Academy’s governing board to create body-camera guidelines within six months. That would include which officers should wear the cameras and when as well as how long data should be stored. State and local law enforcement agencies would then have three months to submit their own policies for the council to review. Those denied would have to be reworked. Implementation would depend on funding.

Asked about neighboring police jurisdictions having different policies, Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Hutto, said that’s likely and appropriate. A small town police agency with a chief and two officers, for example, shouldn’t be required to have the same policy as a sheriff’s department with scores of deputies, said Hutto, chairman of the subcommittee that debated the bill for more than a month.

Members of both committees had concerns about privacy issues and what becomes public record.

Senators agreed to hold that debate for the chamber floor.

Under the Senate bill, body-camera video filmed inside a private place is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Hutto said that’s generally thought to mean inside homes.

House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister said House members’ larger objective was to advance something to the floor in advance of the so-called crossover deadline. Members of both committees noted the deadline in urging action. Bills that don’t pass from one chamber to the other by May 1 face a high hurdle for passing this year.

“We would rather have something moving forward than grinding to a halt over the details of what the storage and disclosure of the video will be,” said Bannister, R-Greenville. “I’ll be interested to see what the Senate does - that’s the barometer.”

More than 12,000 officers are employed across roughly 300 state and local law enforcement agencies in South Carolina, including campus police, according to the Criminal Justice Academy. How many already have body cameras is unclear.

State economic advisers estimate equipping all state and local law enforcement officers with body cameras will cost $21.5 million in the first year. Maintenance and data storage are expected to cost $12 million annually in subsequent years.


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