COLUMBIA, S.C. — Moped drivers could be charged with drunken driving and penalties would be strengthened for speeding in highway construction zones under two of the bills approved in the waning hours of South Carolina’s legislative session.
The session that began Jan. 10 officially ended at 5 p.m. Thursday, but the Legislature will return later this month to finish work on the state budget.
Legislators have yet to agree on a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. A six-member panel of House and Senate members will meet next week to try to craft a compromise between the chambers’ roughly $8 billion spending proposals.
Legislators will meet in a three-day special session starting May 23 to take up the budget and potential compromises on differing versions of other bills passed by both chambers.
Beyond the budget, nine bills have been sent to legislative panels for negotiation.
Proposals that could still become law this year would consolidate crime victim services in the attorney general’s office; require health care professionals to report when newborns show symptoms of neonatal drug exposure; and provide limited immunity from prosecution for people trying to get medical help for someone who’s overdosing.
Bills sent Thursday to Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk include a moped safety bill similar to the one his predecessor, Nikki Haley, vetoed last year.
It requires mopeds to be registered and allows them only on roads where the posted speed limit is below 55 mph.
Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, has said he believes mopeds are the most dangerous vehicles for people to drive, partly because there are no regulations. He’s been pushing for safety legislation since his 2012 election.
The compromise worked out Thursday would not require reflective vests for nighttime driving — one of Haley’s reasons for vetoing the bill.
It would allow officers to charge intoxicated moped drivers with drunken driving. State law currently excludes mopeds — what some legislators call “liquor cycles” — from the definition of a motor vehicle. Prosecutors say that prevents an arrest.
Another bill heading to McMaster aims to slow down drivers in highway construction zones by increasing penalties and state troopers’ presence. The legislative effort began after a 22-year-old highway worker was killed along Highway 41 in Williamsburg County in 2013 in his third week on the job as a flag operator.
The driver received just two tickets totaling $300, for driving too fast for conditions and improper braking.
Earlier this year, two highway workers were killed in Aiken County.
“I never want to receive another call alerting me to the death of a highway worker,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston. “Our workers deserve better and so do their families.”