Harbor Challenge Injected into S.C. Voter ID Fight
By Sarita Chourey
Morris News Service
May 29, 2012 — COLUMBIA -- An attempt by South Carolina Senate Democrats to harness the bipartisan anger toward Georgia's harbor deepening as a way to strip funding for Republicans' voter ID legal battle fell short Wednesday.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-40th District, tried to direct money he said was designated for water litigation to South Carolina's fight against the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The Orangeburg lawmaker said the Savannah River fight was more legitimate than the Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson's ongoing legal battle with the U.S. Department of Justice over its challenge to South Carolina's voter ID law. The legal fight to defend South Carolina's law is estimated to be $1 million.
Hutto's amendment was defeated by a vote of 24-17, cast largely by party.
The action was part of the Senate's budget debate over more than $6.5 billion in state appropriations spending for the upcoming fiscal year. The body approved the budget on Thursday.
"If you want to say it's more important to your constituents to defend voter ID than to defend this entire state in the battle with Georgia, then that's what you'll be doing, if you (defeat the amendment)," said Hutto.
"Our state is going spend a $1 million to keep its own citizens from voting, when they could be spending that same $1 million to defend us in federal litigation related to whether or not we'll build a port in Jasper County."
Republicans across the country have pushed to change the law in order to require voters to show poll workers a government-issued photo identification card before casting a ballot. Republicans say the voter ID requirement is needed in order to prevent people from committing voter fraud by casting a ballot while pretending to be someone else.
Democrats have called the effort a voter suppression tactic that disproportionally targets the poor, elderly, rural, and minority citizens. For South Carolina and other southern states subject to The Voting Rights Act of 1965, the U.S. Department of Justice must sign off on any changes, given those states' past discrimination against minority voters.
As for South Carolina's opposition to Georgia's $653 million harbor deepening, legal challenges are pending in state and federal courts. One of them was brought by the S.C. Savannah River Maritime Commission, created by the S.C. Legislature in 2007. Wilson's office is representing the commission.
South Carolina legislators of both parties are nearly united in their opposition to Georgia's plans, arguing that it will damage the shared Savannah River and make it even harder for the port of Charleston to compete with Savannah for global commerce. The Savannah harbor ranks fourth, with just under 3 million TEUs, container units, moved in fiscal year 2011. Charleston ranks 10th, with 1.38 million TEUs moved at same time.
Palmetto State officials also warn that deepening the Savannah River nearly 38 miles from a depth of 42 feet to 47 feet will prevent the development of a proposed bi-state Jasper Ocean Terminal. Some predict the strife will lead to a federal lawsuit with Georgia.
Earlier budget debate in the Senate also touched on the future Jasper Ocean Terminal. Lawmakers inserted two provisos, which would take effect for one year if passed, aimed at reining in one of South Carolina's three members on the six-man S.C.-Ga. Jasper Ocean Terminal board. Senators Tom Davis, R-46th District, and Clementa Pinckney, D-45th District, had objected to the intent of the proposals, which were previously introduced as S. 1410 but stalled. The provisos were a response to Jasper board member Bill Bethea of Bluffton's vote during the board's March meeting. The Senate's budget version this week contains the two provisos.
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