In a spirit of uncommon bipartisanship, Republican and Democratic members of the House have joined hands and unanimously approved several measures aimed at making our state safer, cleaner and more prosperous.
One measure (H 3793), approved by the House and sent to the Senate, would officially outlaw the possession, sale, purchase or manufacture of drugs known as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana, putting into law an emergency ban declared by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in October. Both substances, already banned by the federal government and dozens of states, would be classified as “extremely dangerous” Schedule I drugs, like heroin, that have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical use.
The proposed bill would be broader than DHEC’s ban by outlawing more chemical compounds. The drugs known as “bath salts” are chemical compounds that have a texture similar to traditional bath salts. They have become popular among teens because of their hallucinogenic effect when snorted, injected or swallowed. Synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or Spice, has been marketed as “organic herbs.”
Another measure (H 4636) unanimously adopted by the House, would create a “blue alert” system in the S.C. Law Enforcement Division to help catch suspects accused of killing, injuring or abducting a law enforcement officer.
The program, similar to AMBER Alerts for missing children, would quickly get out information about the suspects by displaying messages on the state Department of Transportation’s electronic traffic condition signs, as well as billboards and radio and television broadcasts. More than a dozen states have implemented the blue alert system and legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress to establish a national blue alert system.
In an attempt to promote public health, the House unanimously approved legislation that would crack down on spills of untreated and partially treated sewage into public waterways. Specifically, the “three strikes” legislation (H 3617) would require any wastewater utility with three large spills a year to undergo a comprehensive review designed to improve operations.
The bill would also require sewerage system operators to quickly notify DHEC and the public of any spill greater than 5,000 gallons. While most of the state’s municipal waste treatment systems operate without spills, a minority are responsible for chronic problems. The bill was approved by the Senate last year.
Upset that DHEC approved a harbor deepening project that would benefit Georgia at the expense of South Carolina, House members approved a joint resolution (H 4627) suspending DHEC from making any decisions related to the deepening of the Savannah River, retroactive to 2007. The resolution clarifies that the Savannah River Maritime Commission, which was established by the S.C. General Assembly in 2007, is the only body that has authority to grant permits on the matter.
At first glance, the issue appears to be a regional one, but in fact, the decision has tremendous statewide economic and environmental repercussions. Deepening the Savannah River would decrease the chances that the Charleston port would ever get the federal go-ahead to deepen its channel and make it less likely that a planned port facility in Jasper would ever be built. Georgia would get the benefits of more jobs and increased ship traffic, while South Carolina and other states would have to foot most of the costs for the $650 million project.
Moreover, we’ve been told of plans by Georgia to dump toxic sludge onto the South Carolina side. The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a lawsuit, saying the project would be environmentally devastating. DHEC staff originally opposed issuing a permit for the project, but the DHEC Board reversed the staff decision in November, after Governor Haley asked the agency to review its decision.
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