Rear view of Emanuel AME Church when it was a crime scene in 2015. Photo by Andy Brack.

Staff reports  |  Two survivors of the 2015 racist massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston that killed nine told a group of state senators Tuesday that South Carolina’s lack of a hate crimes law is an insult to their suffering. Pressure is increasing on the state Senate to pass the measure after failing to do so in the last seven sessions.

“I’m praying, I’m hoping that this hate crime bill will pass so that no other family — it wouldn’t stop them, but if they know that they have consequences that’s going to follow what they do, that’s going to slow it down tremendously,” survivor Felicia Sanders of Charleston told the committee according to a report by WCSC TV

South Carolina is one of only two states without a hate crimes law. The other is Wyoming. 

Those in favor of the bill cite an increase in reported hate crimes as well as online forums where hate groups note the state’s lack of a hate crime law marks South Carolina as a place that might be accepting of them. These arguments, however, have been made before.

The bill has already passed the S.C. House, and the Senate subcommittee passed it Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s 15-8 vote that afternoon sent it to the Senate floor, where it died last year. Senate Republicans last year said the bill could be used against conservative Christian groups and that “a crime is a crime” according to news reports. 

The bill would allow a judge to sentence offenders to up to an additional five years in prison if a violent crime was motivated by hate toward the victim’s race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or physical or mental disability. A separate version of the bill is being considered in the Senate. This alternate version includes a definition of sex and a statement that nothing in the bill should violate freedom of speech. 

In other news over the past week:

Trump indicted.  In groundbreaking national news, former GOP President Donald Trump has officially been indicted in New York for his alleged role in paying hush money to a porn star.  The indictment reportedly covers more than two dozen felonies. Trump is expected to turn himself in by Tuesday and face arraignments. The exact nature of the charges are unclear, according to Associated Press, but stem from payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter. Trump is the former president in history to be criminally charged. 

S.C. Senate committee recommends disabilities commission be dissolvedS.C. senators on Tuesday unanimously voted on a bill that would eliminate the commission that oversees the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs and re-establish it as part of the governor’s cabinet at the Statehouse.

Prosecutors, sheriffs in S.C. ask legislators to change how judges are elected. Prosecutors and sheriffs from across South Carolina are calling on legislators to relinquish some of their power over the judicial branch to help restore public faith in the process.

2 candidates eyed for state comptroller general. Legislators could choose between former GOP House lawmaker Kirkman Finlay and Mike Shealy, the Senate’s longtime chief budget adviser, as the next — and potentially last — elected comptroller.

S.C. Democrats introduce bill banning death penalty for abortions. Two S.C. lawmakers have introduced bills opposing a proposed bill that could subject a woman who gets an abortion to the death penalty.

S.C. House OKs open enrollment for students. The bill lets students attend schools outside their attendance zone whether in the same school district or somewhere else in the state. Local school districts would make their own open enrollment policies and must notify parents if space is available.

S.C. could be first state in Southeast to provide family leave for teachers. School district employees across South Carolina could get up to six weeks of paid parental leave under a proposed legislation. The bill would make South Carolina the first state in the Southeast to provide teachers paid time off for having or adopting children.

S.C. moves to ban gender-affirming care. A South Carolina bill to ban gender-transition surgeries, hormone therapy and puberty blockers for people under the age of 18 passed a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, following a growing trend among Republican-led legislatures across the country. 

Offshore drilling plan moves forward with passage of House bill. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Republican-backed Lower Energy Costs Act which includes a ban on offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast.

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