- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Devastating floods and videotaped officers are among the 2015 headlines that South Carolina legislators are responding to in bills proposed for debate this year.

The massacre at a historic black church in Charleston last June also resulted in a wide array of measures pre-filed in December for the upcoming session. The subjects range from a monument honoring the nine victims to new rules for rallying on Statehouse grounds.

Gun control measures introduced by Democrats in the wake of Charleston and other mass shootings include those requiring guns to be registered and barring sales without a permit. But those face little-to-no chance in this gun-friendly state controlled by Republicans.

Here’s a closer look at a few of the subjects resulting in multiple proposals before the session’s Jan. 14 start:

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FLOOD RELIEF

Legislators are offering various ways to help residents still reeling from the Oct. 2-5 storm that brought catastrophic flooding across much of the state.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, proposes using $326.5 million in state reserves and surplus to help flood victims. The money would be distributed by the governor’s office.

Owners of flood-damaged homes would see property tax relief under legislation sponsored by GOP Rep. Chip Huggins of Columbia. His proposals would require county auditors to reduce the homes’ values for taxes due in 2016, either cutting bills or providing post-payment refunds. Homeowners who received federal disaster aid would also get a two-month reprieve from paying the local taxes.

Those homeowners could get a one-time state income tax credit equal to 10 percent of their federal assistance under a measure sponsored by Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia.

Other proposals seek to help people repair privately owned dams washed away or weakened amid the storm that dumped up to 2 feet of rain.

Rep. Jimmy Bales, D-Eastover, wants to create a $25 million loan program for owners of dams that held in publicly accessible lakes or had a public road on top. The loans, whether to single owners or homeowner groups, would have to be paid back within 15 years.

STUDENT TOSSED

Proposals to ban students from using cellphones during class follow viral video of a 16-year-old Columbia teen being yanked from her desk and thrown to the floor after refusing to put hers away.

The Richland County officer who arrested the teen in October was swiftly fired after video of him tossing the Spring Valley High School student spread quickly nationwide.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Kit Spires, R-Pelion, and Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, would require school districts to adopt policies that prohibit students from using their phones during school hours - including lunch - and lay out “appropriate disciplinary actions.” The proposals specify students can’t be barred from having a phone, just using it. Currently, districts only need to have some sort of policy on cellphones.

The video also prompted questions about when police officers should get involved with classroom discipline.

Deputy Ben Fields, who is white, was called to the classroom after the teen, who is black, refused to stop using her cellphone and would not leave the classroom for a teacher or administrator. She and the 18-year-old student who taped the incident are charged with “disturbing schools.”

A proposal by Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia, would better define when students can be arrested on the charge many parents call overly broad, to include entering the school without permission, starting a fight or threatening physical harm.

Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, proposes requiring all school resource officers complete “cultural competency” training at the Criminal Justice Academy, which would have to develop the course. His bill also requires middle and high school teachers and principals to be trained in conflict resolution.

K-9 PROTECTION

Anyone convicted of killing, torturing or mutilating a police dog could spend between two and 10 years in prison under proposals that follow the shooting death of an Anderson County K-9.

The guilty person could also be fined up to $20,000 and must pay for the dog’s replacement, including training costs, under bills sponsored by Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, and Rep. Neal Collins, R-Easley.

The crime is currently punishable by one to five years in prison and up to $5,000.

Bryant calls his bill “Hyco’s Law,” for the German Shepherd killed in October as Anderson County deputies investigated a false carjacking report. Collins also names his bill for Fargo, a Richland County K-9 killed by a robbery suspect in December 2011.


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