The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina is a non-partisan organization that has worked for more than fifty years to protect the civil liberties guaranteed to all South Carolinians by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. As we enter a new decade, we remain steadfastly committed to building on this legacy through our work in the legislature, courts, and communities across our state.
The 2020 General Assembly Session will run from Tuesday, January 14, 2020 to Thursday, May 14, 2020 with a crossover deadline of Friday, April 10, 2020. A crossover deadline is the date by which a bill must pass through either the House or Senate for consideration by the other chamber with less than a two-thirds vote. Below is a summary of the ACLU of SC’s key legislative goals and priority issues during the 2020 session.
Building a Smarter and Fairer Criminal Justice System
Reform Counterproductive Sentencing and Parole Laws
Several bills have been introduced to reform criminal sentencing and parole laws. South Carolina’s overcrowded prisons combined with resource shortages and outdated infrastructure have created perilous conditions for incarcerated people. The average length of sentences in South Carolina grew 12% between 2014 and 2018, exacerbating the already horrific conditions of confinement and the need for comprehensive reforms. To begin to address South Carolina’s prison crisis, reform legislation must abolish mandatory minimum sentences and provide opportunities for individuals with lengthy sentences to petition the court for re-sentencing after serving at least ten years. Legislation that fails to incorporate these two reforms would be symbolic at best and would fail to address South Carolina’s prison crisis. We support legislation that moves South Carolina toward a smarter and fairer criminal justice system.
Rein in Policing for Profit
Legislation has been introduced to rein in South Carolina’s abusive civil asset forfeiture program. If passed, the law would better ensure that a person’s property cannot be forfeited unless they were convicted of a crime, that crime includes forfeiture as a punishment, and the property seized was the product of, or that it facilitated, that crime. The legislation would also permit public defenders to represent indigent individuals in the civil forfeiture proceeding, bring transparency to the forfeiture process, remove the ability of law enforcement to profit from forfeiture actions, create a process in which innocent property owners can promptly challenge a seizure and/or assert that they did not know or consent to the use of their property in an alleged crime, and restrict the ability of South Carolina law enforcement to abuse the federal forfeiture programs. We support this legislation because it would rein in policing for profit, strengthen the fair administration of justice, and better protect South Carolina’s most vulnerable.
Expanding Access to Reproductive Healthcare
Defeat Attacks on Reproductive Freedom
Threats to abortion access in South Carolina peaked in 2019 with the rapid advancement of a six-week ban that would prohibit virtually all abortions and pose criminal sanctions on providers found to be in violation of the law. Along with coalition partners, we will continue to defend a person’s right to make decisions about their healthcare and whether and when to start or expand a family without interference from the government. We strongly oppose this legislation because attempts to regulate private healthcare decisions is unconstitutional political overreach and endangers patients and providers alike.
Prohibit Shackling Pregnant People Who are Incarcerated
Legislation has been introduced that would limit the types of restraints used on pregnant people who are incarcerated and virtually eliminate the practice of restraining people during labor, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. If adopted, this legislation would decrease risks associated with being shackled while pregnant and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for both parents and their infants. South Carolina must end the dangerous and inhumane practice of shackling incarcerated people while they are pregnant, in labor, and recovering from childbirth. We support this legislation because it would improve health conditions for pregnant people who are incarcerated.
Ensuring Access to the Polls for All Eligible Voters, Including the Formerly Incarcerated
Reduce Disenfranchisement for People with Felony Convictions
Legislation has been introduced to better ensure that people with felony convictions can exercise their fundamental right to vote after they complete their sentence. If passed, this legislation would require the SC Department of Corrections and the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services to notify returning citizens of their voting eligibility upon sentence completion. Additionally, it would automatically restore voting eligibility to individuals who were registered to vote prior to incarceration. Even though South Carolinians with criminal convictions are eligible to vote after completing their sentence, misinformation and administrative obstacles continue to suppress them from exercising their most fundamental constitutional right. We support this legislation because no one should lose their fundamental right to vote because of a criminal conviction, and this is a step in the right direction.
Advancing Freedoms and Protections for LGBTQ+ People
Protect Trans Youth
Legislation has been filed that would severely limit medical providers’ ability to provide gender affirming treatment to trans youth by banning a variety of medical treatments, including but not limited to non-invasive hormone blockers and interventions to alleviate symptoms of distress resulting from gender dysphoria. If passed, providers who act in violation of the law would be subject to professional discipline including suspension or revocation of licensure and/or certification. Working with coalition partners, we will continue to defend against LGBTQ+ discrimination and advocate for expanded protections and access for LGBTQ+ youth. We strongly oppose this legislation because it is political overreach into private healthcare decisions and imposes unnecessary, potentially life-threatening risks on transgender children who are already disproportionately vulnerable to depression, discrimination, and violence.