Civil Liberties

Filed for 2014 Legislative Session

Compensating Landowners for Government Caused Decrease in Property Value (Filed 4/02/2014)

H.5028 would stipulate that right of way acquisition cost for government bodies exercising eminent domain include compensation to landowners within 1000 feet of the right of way who have seen their property values fall due to the location of the right of way. This is a sensible bill that recognizes property owners don’t have to have their property taken to be harmed by eminent domain. It is only just that property owners who lose wealth due to the forceful takings of government by compensated for that loss.

The 2nd Amendment Still Exists During a State of Emergency (filed 3/06/14)

H.4880 would prevent anyone acting on behalf or under the authority of the state or a political subdivision from prohibiting lawful use of firearms, and the seizure or confiscation of lawfully possessed firearms or ammunition, during a declared state of emergency. The bill also provides individuals who believe their rights were violated under this section the means to redress the situation and for the return of the firearm or ammunition. These provisions would act as a safeguard to prevent violations of individual liberties like those that occurred in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina when at the orders of the Mayor, law enforcement agents broke into homes and confiscated lawfully-owned firearms.

Prohibiting the Warrantless Search of Electronic Devices (Filed 2/26/14)

H.4791 would protect South Carolina citizens by prohibiting government entities from performing any warrantless searches of electronic devices and the information within them. Government entities would also be prohibited from obtaining geolocation (physical location of the device) revealing the past, present, or future location of an electronic device without a warrant. Some minor exceptions are included in the bill, for example, parents can consent to a warrantless search of their child’s geolocation data, and an owner of a stolen electronic device can consent to the geolocation search.

This bill is a laudable attempt to protect the rights of South Carolina citizens and to legally recognize that the right to be secure in person, houses, papers and effects is not limited to only physical possessions.

Prohibiting State Employees from Assisting Federal Agencies in Collecting Individuals’ Electronic Data or Metadata (Filed 2/26/14)

H.4795 would prohibit all state employees from personally assisting or using state funds to help a federal agency collect a person’s electronic data or metadata. The bill also prohibits the use of any personal electronic data or metadata collected by a federal agency from being used in a criminal investigation or prosecution. State agencies that violate these provisions would be prohibited from receiving state grant funds the following fiscal year, and state employees who violate them would be barred from future employment by the state or its political subdivisions.

Elimination of CWP Fees (Filed 2/20/14)

S.1045 eliminates all application fees for Concealed Weapons Permits, including the initial application fee, renewal fee, and replacement fee. The bill essentially requires the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to pick up the tab on CWP fees instead of imposing fees on those who are forced to get a state-approved permit to carry a concealed firearm. While in nearly every case we wouldn’t condone additional state expenditures, there is no reason why law-abiding citizens should have to pay the government for their 2nd amendment right already given to them by the Bill of Rights. There are more than enough unnecessary expenditures that could be cut to make up for the cost.

“Super Speeder” Fine for Speeding Violations (Filed 2/20/14)

H.4759 would impose a fine of $250 on a driver convicted of, pleads guilty to, or pleads nolo contendere to driving 15 miles an hour or more above the speed limit. This fine is in addition to any fine or penalty already imposed for speed limit violations. The bill also stipulates that the fine placed in the state general fund and allocated to Level I trauma centers in the cities of Greenville, Spartanburg, Charleston and Columbia. Lastly, the bill would classify a driver imposed with this fine as a “super speeder.”

As we have covered before, traffic violation fines, such as the one proposed by this bill, are part of rising trend of the use of traffic fines as a revenue source. There are already laws on the book that prohibit speeding, as well as penalties and fines in place for those that violate the speed limit. Additional fines will do nothing to curb speeding when current laws are not strictly enforced.

Allowing Industrial Hemp Cultivation

S.839 would allow South Carolinians to grow hemp a product of the cannabis plant which is used in producing fiber, oil and seed products. The bill distinguishes the growing of hemp from growing marijuana (the cannabis plants cultivated most not contain more THC than allowed by the controlled substance act) and creates a new penalty with a maximum 5 year sentence or $5,000 fine for growing marijuana on property used for hemp production. The production of hemp is banned federally as it is not distinguished from marijuana in federal law. However, nine other states have taken steps towards allowing hemp production by defining industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana. The U.S. House version of the 2013 farm bill also contains an amendment that would allow colleges and universities to grow hemp for research purposes in states where industrial hemp cultivation is legal.

While hemp is a historical cash crop its production has illegal under federal law since 1970. While hemp production may be illegal under federal law, it is worth noting, the state of South Carolina would not be violating federal law by allowing hemp production. Federal law trumps state law but states are not required to enforce federal law (this is how Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana). Further the Drug Enforcement Agency has indicated it currently has no plans to crack down on marijuana business in those states where they are legal under state law.

It is estimated that the U.S. imports roughly $2 billion worth of hemp annually. It is nonsensical to cut U.S. citizens and more specifically South Carolinians out of this profitable industry merely because the product being cultivated is related to marijuana. Any attempt to remove legal restrictions that hamper market productivity while protecting no one should be welcomed.

Banning E-Cigs in Public Places (Filed 1/23/14)

H.4553 would prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in places where the use of traditional cigarettes is already banned. This is a purely reactionary measure to the appearance of e-cigarettes as they often resemble traditional cigarettes. There is no scientific justification for prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in public places as they emit only water vapors and provide no second hand smoke risk. There is also data to suggest that e-cigarettes pose significantly less health risks to users than traditional cigarettes due to their lack of chemicals that come from tobacco combustion. Prohibitions on e-cigarettes may actually harm more people than they help by taking away incentives to use a product safer than traditional cigarettes.

Background Checks for Individual Gun Sales and at Gun Shows (Filed 1/15/14)

H.4503 would require an instant criminal background check be completed for private sales exchanges, and transfers of firearms (with very limited exception), including sales, exchanges, and transfers that occur at gun shows, by a licensed dealer who can charge a fee of up to $25 per transaction. This bill would allow government to regulate the sale of private property and is another example of gun control legislation that will have negative consequences for the law-abiding citizen. If it were to pass, this bill would require that in the event you wanted to sell your personal property (in this case, a firearm) to another individual, you would have to locate a licensed dealer willing to run a criminal background check on that individual and complete all the required paperwork involved in that process. Not only is this an imposition on the dealer and his or her business, it is a violation of individual liberties. As we have pointed out before, the most comprehensive studies on gun control have found no gun control measures that were effective in reducing gun violence.

Barring Political Subdivisions from Enforcing Weapon Regulations (Pre-filed 12/17/13)

S.885 would make it illegal for political subdivisions of the state (municipalities, counties etc.) to enforce regulations concerning the transfers, ownership, possession, carrying or transportation of knives, firearms, ammunition, or components of firearms. It is already illegal for political subdivisions to put forth new regulations on these items. As we have pointed out before, the most comprehensive studies on gun control have found no gun control measures that were effective in reducing gun violence. If the state wishes to promulgate these kinds of questionable regulations, it should be the state that enforces them.

Filed for 2013 Legislative Session

“Constitutional Carry” (Filed in 2013 Session)

S.115 would make South Carolina the 6th state to enact the policy of “Constitutional Carry”. If enacted, anyone who is legally allowed to own a handgun in the state would be able to carry that handgun in public either openly (in plain sight) or concealed, without the requirement of a concealed weapons permit. Citizens that still want to obtain a CWP in order to carry in other states that have reciprocity with South Carolina can do so. The bill would still allow private employers, owners, or persons to restrict weapons on their premises if they have legally posted a sign stating the prohibition (such as “No Weapons Allowed”). Also, the bill would still prohibit someone from carrying a weapon into the residence or dwelling place of another person without the permission of the owner.

Constitutional Carry would enhance freedom in South Carolina as it would remove the state government infringement on the Second Amendment that currently requires law abiding citizens to pay a fee to the government and take a training class to obtain a concealed weapons permit in order to carry a handgun concealed in public for their protection. Currently, Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, Arkansas enact the same or similar policy.

Exempting Police from Liability for Police Dog Actions

H.3527 and H.3570 would exempt police from liability for a police dog attack in almost all cases. When we authorize a special group of people with the ability to use force and weapons against others, they should be under more legal scrutiny not less. The main effect of this legislation will be to shift incentives in such a way as to make police abuse more likely.

Creating a Public Litter Offender Registry

S.199 would require the Department of Health and Environmental Control to post a registry of convicted litter offenders in a “conspicuous location on the department’s Internet website”. The registry would include offenders’ name and address, as well as the nature of the offense and the penalty imposed. In no way are we condoning littering, but if litter laws are already enforced, is there any other intent of this bill besides publicly shaming offenders? If so, this should shed some light on how some lawmakers view the role of state government to be, when it now apparently includes publicly shaming people who at one time in their lives have violated a litter law.

Protecting Property Rights

H.3040 would prevent the indefinite holding of citizens’ property by law enforcement agencies. All property seized would have to be returned to its rightful owner within thirty days unless a court finds probable cause.

Removing Mandatory Minimums

H.3060 would remove mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses and allow individuals convicted of these offenses to be pardoned and put into community service and work release programs. This bill would also create a committee to examine South Carolina’s drug laws. An important distinction is made by the bill between violent and non-violent offenders and would require the latter to be treated with less severity. It would also ease the financial burden on our state corrections system by shortening the sentences of non-violent offenders.

Prohibiting Smoking Near Where it is Already Banned

H.3344 would prohibit smoking within fifteen feet of an entrance or exit of an establishment where smoking is currently banned and would also prohibit smoking in an outdoor gated facility where athletic or other events are held. In addition to being unlikely to improve in any significant way the health of South Carolina citizens, this bill would further violate the right of property owners to decide what they allow on their property. Finally, the provisions in this bill are the kind of laws that lend themselves to arbitrary enforcement and abuse of authority.

Ban on Unlawful Seizure of Recording Devices

H.3059 would make it illegal for a police officer to confiscate a recording device (cell phones, video recorders, etc.) provided that the recording device doesn’t “substantially impede or interfere with the investigation or arrest”. The maximum punishment for an officer doing this would be a 500 dollar fine or imprisonment for 30 days. While this bill is a small step in the right direction, the phrase, “substantially impede or interfere with the investigation or arrest” is still too broad and open to interpretation. It is easy to imagine a police officer construing any use of a recording device as substantially impeding or interfering with an investigation or an arrest.

Prohibiting Use of Cell Phones while Driving

H.3317 would make it illegal to use a handheld device while driving, unless it has a hands-free mechanism. While this law may have good intentions; to fully accomplish its goal of insuring that drivers have no distractions, it would need to outlaw such things as children screaming while driving, listening to loud music, and thoughts about anything other than driving.

Proof of Insurance on Electronic Device

H.3034 would allow people to show proof of insurance and ownership of a car on an electronic device. If people can use electronic devices as credit cards, plane tickets, etc., there is no reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to show proof of insurance and ownership of the car on an electronic device in a secure manner.