Lawsuit Abuse Reform Bill Passes House

Balanced Reform protects citizens & improves business climate

(Columbia, SC) – Today, by a final vote of 100 to 7, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed a comprehensive Tort Reform bill (H. 3375) aimed at protecting both our state’s citizens and business from unfair lawsuit abuse.

Touted by many business organizations as one of the most effective economic improvement issues before the General Assembly, the measure will lower the cost of doing business in South Carolina and make our state more competitive by reducing frivolous lawsuits and placing a cap on punitive damages. Similar Tort Reform measures have already passed in neighboring states.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell issued the following statement about the House passing this key piece of legislation:

“The House has constantly fought for reforms that improve our state’s business climate and helps the private sector to create more jobs. Maintaining our low-tax, pro-business and competitive climate is key to our state’s economic recovery.

“Businesses in South Carolina – especially small businesses – are too often one frivolous lawsuit away from being put out of business. Our goal with this Tort Reform bill is to bring fair balance to our system, lower the cost of doing business and make our state more competitive while still protecting our citizens from wrongdoing.

“Under these lawsuit abuse reform provisions, businesses will be able to operate and grow without the constant threat of costly frivolous lawsuits or overly inflated settlements hanging over them. This fairly balanced system will protect our state’s citizens, greatly benefit existing businesses and will make our state more attractive to new businesses.

“Last year, the House passed a similar Tort Reform bill but the legislative session ended before it could become law. This year, the House took quick action on this key economic issue to give this measure plenty of time to become law this session.”

House GOP Approves Voter ID

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s House Republicans ushered the “Voter ID” legislation through the House today on a party-line vote.

“Protecting the integrity of the election system of South Carolina is the goal of this bill,” said Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach. “Voting is a constitutionally protected right and cannot be abridged. Four out of every five Americans supports showing a picture identification to vote. The House Republicans are fighting to ensure fair and secure elections in this state.”

For the last two years, the House Republicans have approved Voter ID – one of the top agenda items for the S.C. Republican Party. The legislation requires voters to show a government-issued picture identification (a driver’s license, passport, or military ID) to prove their identity when they vote. It also requires creation of a new voter registration card with a photograph. The fee for a state picture ID card is waived until the state can issue free voter registration cards with a photograph on them.

Despite rhetorical hyperbole of Democrats, the Voter ID legislation approved today has nothing to do with voter suppression or abridging someone’s right to vote. Under the current system, all you need is a voter registration card with your name and address.

“It is not the intention of the Republicans to disenfranchise anybody. As Republicans and elected officials, we want every legally eligible person to vote,” said House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham. “A strong electoral system, where the integrity of each vote is beyond reproach, is what makes our democracy strong. This legislation will ensure that in our state.”

Similar Voter ID laws in Georgia and Indiana have been upheld by the Department of Justice and the United States Supreme Court. The bill approved today mirrors the legislation approved by the House Republicans in 2009.

“Do we have to wait until we have proof of widespread fraud before we close a loophole that we know exists,” asked Rep. Bruce Bannister of Greenville, the Assistant Majority Leader. “Without secure elections, our entire political process is compromised.”

The Voter ID legislation will now go to the Senate, where a similar bill is currently on the calendar.

The approval of the Voter ID legislation marks the second agenda item approved by the S.C. House Republicans in three weeks. Two other items – the Higher Education Transparency and Tort Reform bills – are set to receive committee hearings this week.

The New Legislative Session

Happy New Year to all! After a snow/ice delay, the House began the 2011 legislative session this week. Governor Haley kicked off her administration with a chilly inauguration ceremony followed by an Inaugural Gala that evening. The week wasn’t all ceremony and celebration, however.

The House Republican Caucus immediately went to work on its 2011-2012 legislative agenda. We passed a bill requiring roll-call voting, which is now in the Senate for consideration. The Constitutional Laws subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, of which I am a member, quickly approved a constitutional amendment that would place a roll-call voting requirement in our state’s constitution. We will consider that bill in the full Judiciary Committee next week.

I also attended the first budget briefing of the year. It’s no secret that we have huge challenges ahead of us this budget year. Rest assured that we will work hard to fund core government services and to protect the most vulnerable citizens in our great State. I appreciate all the emails and letters I have received with feedback and input on that front.

As always, if I can assist you or your family with state government issues, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you in Columbia.

Kind regards,

Rep. Derham Cole

Moped laws on agenda as fatalities continue to climb

Barry Gonsalves says he and James Grisham were joking about who could make it down a big hill the fastest on their mopeds at 9 p.m. on Oct. 9 when a car came from behind, hitting and killing Grisham.

Grisham, 49, was one of at least 10 moped riders killed in South Carolina this year, according to research by Democratic state Sen. Thomas Alexander’s office.

Too slow to keep up with highway traffic and too fast to be easily passed, mopeds increasingly are involved in fatal accidents across the USA. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) reports the number of fatalities involving mopeds doubled between 2005 and 2009, from 48 to 96.

Legislation aimed at cutting down that figure is pending or was adopted last year in a dozen states, according to Anne Teigen of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Teigen says at least 17 states require a driver’s licenses to operate a moped. A bill that would require a license is up for debate in North Carolina and Washington state enacted a license law last year, the NCSL reports.

Bills that would require moped riders to wear helmets are pending in Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland and Washington, although some would cover only riders under 21 or 18.

In Washington, a bill that would require riders to wear helmets unless they have health insurance that would cover the cost of injuries was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and carried over for action in the 2011 session.

In South Carolina, drivers whose licenses have been suspended can ride mopeds for up to six months before they have to get a moped license.

To the surprise of state Rep. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg, it’s not against the law to ride a moped while drunk in South Carolina.

Mopeds were excluded in the definition of “motor vehicle” in the state’s DUI law, he says. He is filing legislation to close that loophole.

“I just think it’s a common sense issue,” he says. “If someone is going to be driving a motorized vehicle on the roadway with other vehicles, then they should be subject to the same laws that pertain to driving under the influence.”

Most states that require a license to operate a moped consider driving one drunk a DUI offense, Teigen says.

Cyd Phillips of Easley, S.C., whose brother was killed on a moped, says she believes lawmakers should require more lights on mopeds, put a moped-rider rights question on driver’s license tests and install more roundabouts in an effort to slow traffic.

Another tragedy can be prevented, she says, if drivers slow down and watch out for mopeds.

“Everybody has the right to be on this road out here,” she says.

Courtesy: USA Today

Outlaw drunken mo-ped riding

It makes no sense for South Carolina’s drunken driving laws to exempt mo-ped driving. Driving any sort of vehicle while intoxicated should be a crime.

But, for some reason, South Carolina’s lawmakers decided to exempt mo-peds from the law. Local law enforcement agencies have been forced to drop charges against mo-ped drivers who have been arrested for driving under the influence.

These people can only be charged with disorderly conduct. That allows them to get right back out on the road.

Don’t think that because they drive a small, light vehicle that drunken mo-ped drivers aren’t a threat to anyone other than themselves. Any drunken driver is a menace. Car and truck drivers trying to avoid a drunken mo-ped driver can collide with other cars and trucks or swerve off the road. You don’t need to drive a big vehicle to cause a deadly crash.

There is no legitimate excuse for operating any motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. South Carolina has had lax drunken driving laws for too long. The holes in the Palmetto State’s system to handle this problem must be filled.

Mo-ped laws are clearly one of these problems. South Carolinians have referred to mo-peds as “liquorcycles” for a reason. They have often served as a transportation solution for those who have lost their driver’s licenses due to drunken driving.

Moving a drunken driver from an automobile to a mo-ped is not the solution. These drivers must be taken off the roads.

State Reps. Derham Cole Jr. and Eddie Tallon have announced that they have prefiled a bill that would define mo-peds as motor vehicles and allow the prosecution of those who drive a mo-ped while intoxicated. The bill should be quickly passed by lawmakers.

But the General Assembly shouldn’t stop there. It should take an overall look at drunken driving laws and the judicial system for enforcing those laws. Lawmakers should examine whether the state is truly getting drunken drivers off the roads.

Too often, when someone is killed by an intoxicated driver, we have found that this motorist was arrested multiple times for driving under the influence but was still allowed back on the roads. Laws have been tightened a little in recent years, but have the changes made a difference?

Filling the loophole in the law regarding mo-peds is an obvious first step, and Cole and Tallon deserve congratulations for recognizing the problem and addressing it. But the state needs to examine whether the changes in DUI laws made in recent years are having the necessary effect.

If repeat drunken drivers are not being effectively taken off the roads, more changes may be needed.

Courtesy: GoUpstate.com

Press Release: Tougher Rules for Mopeds

December 7, 2010

Two Upstate lawmakers believe they can make local roadways safer by tightening the laws regarding the operation of mopeds.

State Reps. Derham Cole and Eddie Tallon, both of Spartanburg, announced today they are pre-filing a bill that will allow for moped drivers to be charged with driving under the influence. A moped doesn’t currently meet the state’s definition of a motor vehicle, according to existing law.

The state Department of Public Safety has recorded more than 1,300 wrecks involving mopeds during 2008, 2009 and 2010. More than 1,100 of the wrecks involved injury. State officials also recorded 41 fatalities. The moped driver contributed to the cause in 26 of the fatal wrecks.

Spartanburg County recorded 4 moped fatalities in 2008, and Cherokee County had one that same year. The local wrecks involved at least two drivers who were driving on suspended driver’s licenses.

“Moped wrecks range in seriousness from fender benders to fatalities,” Tallon said. “I believe anyone who drives on public roadways should be required to do so in a responsible manner. Irresponsible moped drivers place themselves, and others, at serious risk.”

Principal Deputy Solicitor Barry Barnette, state Department of Public Safety Director Mark Keel, Highway Patrol Col. Kenny Lancaster, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright, Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger, Cherokee County Sheriff-Elect Steve Mueller, and Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler support the legislation, and they hope to see it pass soon.

“When a drunk moped operator is taken off the road, we are definitely making the community a safer place,” Barnette said. “I appreciate Rep. Cole’s and Rep. Tallon’s interest in protecting public safety.”

Barnette cited a recent Cherokee County case as an example of the problem. A local man was charged with driving under the influence while driving a moped. The presiding judge decided the existing statute excluded mopeds from the definition of a motor vehicle. Shortly after the case was resolved, the same person was stopped by police on suspicion he was driving drunk on his moped. The defendant was charged with public disorderly conduct on the second case.

The moped issue is much larger than one of transportation, according to Clevenger.

“Studies have shown that emergency room visits for unrestrained motorists involved in wrecks far exceeds the bills of people who are properly restrained,” Clevenger said. “I can’t help but think that irresponsible moped drivers are responsible for some large hospital bills.

“The problem is furthered by the fact that the current law doesn’t require moped operators to carry liability insurance,” Clevenger added.

SC bill would outlaw driving drunk on a mo-ped

Driving drunk on a mo-ped would become illegal in South Carolina under a bill up for debate next year.

Current state law specifically excludes mo-peds from the definition of a motor vehicle. That exclusion came as a surprise to Rep. Derham Cole and newly elected Rep. Eddie Tallon, who said officers told him about it as he campaigned.

“It seems pretty common sense that it would be against the law,” said Cole, who’s entering his second term. “Under current law, they can drive as drunk as they want to and can’t be prosecuted with DUI.”

The Spartanburg Republicans prefiled a bill Tuesday that would remove the exclusion, allowing officers to charge drunken mo-ped drivers with driving under the influence.

It was the first day House members could prefile legislation for the session. Senators began filing last week. The prefiling period, which wraps up Dec. 15, gives an early look at what legislators will focus on when they return Jan. 11.

Cole and Tallon said they hope tightening the law on mo-peds will make roadways safer.

According to the state Department of Public Safety, more than 1,300 wrecks involving mo-peds have been documented in the last three years. Someone was injured in 85 percent of those; 41 people have died.

How many of those involved a drunken driver is unknown.

Law enforcement officers say people often get around on a mo-ped after losing their drivers’ license. If they are stopped for driving drunk, they can be charged with public disorderly conduct. Officers supporting the change include Public Safety Director Mark Keel.

In 2008, legislators approved a law toughening sentences for drunken drivers. The changes tied a tier of penalties to the amount of alcohol in drivers’ bodies, increased penalties for repeat offenders and closed some legal loopholes that critics said allowed suspects to escape punishment.

The blood-alcohol threshold is 0.08 percent. The new penalties that took effect in February 2009 get harsher at 0.10 percent and again at 0.16 percent.

Courtesy: Herald Online

Officers, lawmakers want tougher rules for mo-peds

Those caught driving drunk on a mo-ped often face no other charges than disorderly conduct.

State law excludes mo-peds from DUI laws. In Cherokee County recently, a man was charged with DUI while operating a mo-ped, but the case was eventually dropped because of the law’s loophole, 7th Circuit Principal Deputy Solicitor Barry Barnette said Tuesday.

“It’s a huge problem throughout the state,” Barnette said. “Cases are being dismissed because of that loophole.”

In that case, officers report they caught the man driving drunk on a mo-ped shortly after the first case was dropped, but could only charge him with disorderly conduct.

Two state lawmakers from Spartanburg County want to toughen DUI laws by defining a mo-ped as a motor vehicle.

Flanked by law enforcement officials at the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, state Reps. Derham Cole Jr. and Eddie Tallon announced Tuesday they have pre-filed a bill for the next legislative session that will close the loophole excluding mo-peds as motor vehicles.

If the law is approved by the state Legislature, officers will be able to charge drunken drivers riding mo-peds with DUI.

“This bill is really simple, but it’s going to have a great impact on public safety,” Cole said.

Cole said he was “incredulous” when he learned that mo-peds are not considered motor vehicles under current DUI law. He said it makes no sense that someone caught driving a car while drunk could lose his or her license, then operate a mo-ped while drunk and not be charged with DUI.

“There’s really no consequences,” Cole said.

Tallon said he thinks it’s ridiculous that officers can’t charge a mo-ped driver with DUI under the law right now.

“Mo-ped wrecks range in seriousness from fender-benders to fatalities,” Tallon said. “I believe anyone who drives on public roadways should be required to do so in a responsible manner. Irresponsible mo-ped drivers place themselves and others at serious risk.”

Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger said in 2008, four people died locally in mo-ped crashes, although he did not know whether any of them involved a drunken driver. No mo-ped-related deaths have been reported in 2009 or 2010.

Statewide, more than 1,300 collisions have involved mo-peds since 2008, including 41 fatalities. In 26 of those fatalities, the mo-ped driver contributed to the cause of the crash, according to figures from the state Department of Public Safety.

Mark Keel, director of the state Department of Public Safety, said DUI enforcement is one of his department’s main objectives and could be responsible for a drop in the number of fatal crashes so far in 2010.

There have been 117 fewer traffic fatalities on state roads this year, and 2010 could be the first year since 1982 that fatalities fall below 800, he said.

“What this (bill) is about is to hold everyone who operates a motor vehicle on the state’s highways responsible,” Keel said. “We look forward to its passage.”

Courtesy: GoUpstate.com

Republicans crowd field for governor, education superintendent, 4th District

Filing for state and local offices ended at noon Tuesday, ushering in a few new faces to the political scene and bringing some familiar names back into the fold — though not all of them where they might have been expected.

Filing for state and local offices ended at noon Tuesday, ushering in a few new faces to the political scene and bringing some familiar names back into the fold — though not all of them where they might have been expected.

Twenty-four Republican candidates met Tuesday’s noon deadline to place their names on ballots in Cherokee County’s June primary election. They were joined in filing for office by a lone Democrat seeking a seat on the Cherokee County Council.

The Spartanburg County Republican Party registered 22 candidates; the county Democratic Party, five.

The political parties have until April 9 to get a certified list of candidates to their respective county election commissions.

“That’s a pretty good number,” Spartanburg County GOP Chairwoman LaDonna Ryggs said. “What it shows is definitely the health of the party. And it shows that there’s some candidates they (our constituents) are extremely pleased with.”

Of her five candidates, newly elected county Democratic Chairwoman Shelly Roehrs said: “It’s a workable amount. It’s not as intimidating as the 22 the Republicans have. I see a diverse group of individuals. Some are younger, some are older. I only see one woman. We need to work on that. But we definitely have a strong group of candidates that I feel very positive about.”

It’s the foundation for what will likely be some tense battles leading up to the June 8 primaries and, beyond that, the general election in November.

Twenty-four Republican candidates met Tuesday’s noon deadline to place their names on ballots in Cherokee County’s June primary election. They were joined in filing for office by a lone Democrat seeking a seat on the Cherokee County Council.

The Spartanburg County Republican Party registered 22 candidates; the county Democratic Party, five.

The political parties have until April 9 to get a certified list of candidates to their respective county election commissions.

“That’s a pretty good number,” Spartanburg County GOP Chairwoman LaDonna Ryggs said. “What it shows is definitely the health of the party. And it shows that there’s some candidates they (our constituents) are extremely pleased with.”

Of her five candidates, newly elected county Democratic Chairwoman Shelly Roehrs said: “It’s a workable amount. It’s not as intimidating as the 22 the Republicans have. I see a diverse group of individuals. Some are younger, some are older. I only see one woman. We need to work on that. But we definitely have a strong group of candidates that I feel very positive about.”

It’s the foundation for what will likely be some tense battles leading up to the June 8 primaries and, beyond that, the general election in November.

Despite crowded races for both governor and lieutenant governor, one of the most-watched races in the Upstate is the 4th Congressional District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis is fighting to hold onto his seat. Inglis faces 7th Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy, state Sen. David Thomas, Wofford professor Christina Jeffrey and Mauldin businessman Jim Lee. That race has already had its fair share of terse exchanges, and a Federal Election Commission complaint filed by the Inglis camp against Gowdy’s campaign remains unresolved.

Democrat Paul Corden of Spartanburg, who sought the seat unsuccessfully in 2008, has filed to try for it again. Corden is a former vice president of marketing and sales for Beverage-Air.

Another Upstate congressional race that’s getting some attention: Longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. John Spratt, who revealed Tuesday he is suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease, will defend his seat against state Rep. Mick Mulvaney in November.

That district is already in the cross hairs of larger GOP organizations and is one of 20 districts literally targeted by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s political action committee.

There was no surprise in the gubernatorial race, which has four Republicans, three Democrats and a handful of independents vying for the seat. Congressman Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, state Rep. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Henry McMaster are competing for the Republican nomination; state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and state Sens. Robert Ford and Vince Sheheen for the Democratic nod.

Republicans in this race have made fighting the recent health care reform signed into law by President Barack Obama a signature line in their talking points — and McMaster has joined with other states’ attorneys general in a lawsuit designed to undo most, if not all, of the changes in that reform.

“There’s two different levels,” Roehrs said. “Health care affects things nationally, and a lot of people are disregarding what’s happening right here in South Carolina. Our jobs and economy and education system are broken. … The health care debate is important, but we have more important things to focus on right here at home.”

The hotly contested state superintendent of education race grew a bit Tuesday with the addition of former D.R. Hill Middle School Principal Gary Burgess formally entering the race. Six Republicans and two Democrats are competing for that seat.

Three members of the Spartanburg County Legislative Delegation face no opposition: Democratic Rep. Harold Mitchell and Republican Reps. Derham Cole Jr. and Mike Forrester.

Two state House battles will be decided in June primaries: a two-way race between former State Law Enforcement Division agent Eddie Tallon and golf course superintendent Weldon Davis for the seat being vacated by state Rep. Lanny Littlejohn; and a three-way race between incumbent Rep. Rita Allison, businessman Jim McMillan and Realtor Abe Mills.

Incumbent Republican Reps. Keith Kelly and Joey Millwood face opposition both within their own party and, if they succeed in the primary, the Democrats in November. Rep. Steve Parker has no primary opponent, but will face Democrat Delores Frazer in the general election.

Cherokee County races

In Cherokee County, the sheriff’s race drew the most attention, with five GOP hopefuls seeking the job held by incumbent Bill Blanton, also a Republican, who plans to retire after 20 years.

Candidates for Blanton’s position are Brooks Allison, Rick Burgess, Jimmy R. Cash, Joel Hill and Steve Mueller.

Steven Blanton, local GOP chairman, said his party exhibited an outstanding amount of interest in the elections during the two-week filing period.

“I am extremely pleased with the overwhelming support of the Republican Party and grateful for each candidate and their families for their desire to serve our community. I look forward to an exciting primary,” Blanton said.

With no Democratic nominees, the primary could bring winners in all but one race, barring any write-in or petition candidates lining up for the November general election.

go upstate.com

Supreme Court says simple majority can elect chairman

For six months, members of the Spartanburg County Legislative Delegation sparred over whether a simple majority or a weighted vote was required to elect a chairman and vice chairman.

Today, the state Supreme Court left no doubt. In a 5-0 decision, the justices said a simple majority was all that was required to choose officers.

Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, who asked the high court to settle the dispute, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The issue arose at the delegation’s first meeting in November 2008, when members voted 9-4 to elect Rep. Lanny Littlejohn, R-Pacolet, chairman and 8-5 to elect Rep. Keith Kelly, R-Woodruff, vice chairman.

Bright, however, took exception, saying the vote should have been based on weighted majority rules – in which each lawmaker receives a percentage of the voting power based on the number of people he or she represents. Two weeks later, Bright, Sens. Shane Martin and Glenn Reese and Rep. Joey Millwood held their first separate meeting, where they elected Millwood chairman and Martin vice chairman. Bright, Martin and Millwood are all Republicans, while Reese is a Democrat.

The dueling delegations used opposing interpretations of the same court case – Vander Linden v. Hodges – to support their arguments. That case did establish weighted voting as the method for making appointments to boards – a decision Mitchell did not challenge.

Mitchell in January asked state Attorney General Henry McMaster for an opinion on whether the four members constituted a quorum – the minimum number required to legally hold a meeting. McMaster concluded in an opinion handed down in March that a quorum is a simple majority of the body – which in the case of the delegation would be seven members.

In today’s unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Jean Toal, the high court sided with Mitchell’s contention that delegation officers are ceremonial positions and are not subject to weighted voting rules.

“Furthermore, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman: (a) cannot take any action on behalf of the delegation save for calling a meeting to order and certain other procedural matters, (b) cannot independently exercise any of the substantive functions of the delegation except by virtue of their roles as voting members, and (c) are not accorded greater weight when voting by virtue of their positions as delegation officers,” Toal wrote. “Thus, these officers do not perform substantive duties and perform no governmental functions that raise the concerns at issue in Vander Linden. Therefore, Vander Linden’s weighted voting remedy does not apply to the election of Chairman and Vice-Chairman, and these offices can be elected by a simple majority vote of the delegation.”

Bright said this afternoon he had not seen the opinion and declined to comment until he had read it.

The delegation agreed to a compromise in May, with Kelly stepping aside and Martin being elected vice chairman.

Kelly said he’s glad to have the issue put to rest once and for all.

“We’re relieved to get this behind us and that the Supreme Court has now said that my interpretation of the law, along with several other members of the delegation, is correct,” he said. “Now all of us know what the law is.”

Spartanburg attorney Charlie Hodge, who along with his partner, Ryan Langley, represented Mitchell, called the opinion a “well-reasoned decision.”

“I’m very pleased that the Supreme Court first heard the case and second agreed with our position that in terms of selecting officers a simple majority ought to be utilized,” Hodge said. “The issue needed to be decided because if it wasn’t it could certainly have reared its head in the future. What this essentially does is close that loophole.”

Source : goupstate.com