By Jessica Brodie
One group of South Carolina United Methodists is celebrating and one is in a time of deep disappointment as state lawmakers adjourn their 2023 legislative session.
Methodists were speaking up and speaking out about at least two South Carolina bills this legislative session, which began Jan. 10 and adjourned May 11. One bill focused on combatting predatory lending and was championed by a number of Methodists, while the other was an execution secrecy bill that would conceal names of companies providing lethal injections, vehemently opposed by Methodists who are part of a group called South Carolinians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
The predatory lending bill has been carried over to next year’s session, meaning the legislation is still alive, but it will not be acted upon this year.
The execution secrecy bill (SB 120) was passed May 4 by the South Carolina General Assembly, and Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law May 12.
The Rev. Hillary Taylor, a United Methodist pastor who is also the executive director of South Carolinians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, expressed deep disappointment over the passage of the execution secrecy bill, which will shield the identities of drug companies that provide drugs to be used for executions in South Carolina. Executions in this state have been on pause for more than a decade because drug companies reportedly have refused to sell the drugs to the South Carolina Department of Corrections because they don’t want their companies associated with executions.
The bill will also keep secret the identities of people involved in preparing the execution, including execution team members.
Taylor said the new law indicates our government prioritizes secrecy over transparency.
“Not only does this secrecy law allow the South Carolina Department of Corrections to spend untold amounts of money on lethal injection drugs, it prohibits accountability over the DOC, while also threatening to imprison people for raising alarm about buying black market drugs, using expired and/or contaminated drugs and inflicting stressful and traumatic conditions on DOC employees participating in premeditated, state-sponsored murder,” Taylor said.
She said of all the execution methods, lethal injection has the highest rate of botched executions, and under the new secrecy law, it will be difficult if not impossible to investigate or demand accountability for botched executions.
“Though execution secrecy has been embraced by our state, SCADP remains committed to fighting this irresponsible and reckless law restarting premeditated, state-sponsored murder in South Carolina. The death penalty will continue to disproportionately affect individuals who are impoverished, have Black and Brown skin, receive inadequate legal representation and suffer from persistent mental health issues,” Taylor added. “Our message remains consistent: If the state of South Carolina wants to create true community safety and healing, our limited taxpayer dollars would be better spent on effective violence prevention programs, including child abuse prevention, mental health care, treatment for substance use and community violence interrupters. Killing the 36 people who are already behind bars does nothing to make us safer.”
Regarding SB 518, titled Unfair Trade Practice Consumer Loans Legislation, this legislation would cap interest rates at 36 percent.
The Rev. Bernie Mazyck, co-convenor of the South Carolina Conference Connectional Ministries Advocacy area and president and CEO of the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, said United Methodists and other people of faith played a huge role in keeping the legislation alive. Several members of the Advocacy area attended hearings at the Statehouse on the legislation and encouraged passage of the bill.
Mazyck said that after four hearings by the subcommittee of the Senate Labor Commerce and Industry Committee, with testimonials from both supporters of the legislation and those who oppose the legislation, the subcommittee decided to delay a vote and carry the legislation over until next year.
“That means the legislation is still alive, but it just will not be acted upon this year,” Mazyck said.
The bill, introduced by Lexington Sen. Katrina Shealy, aims to help the poor be protected from lenders who sometime charge wildly high rates. Currently, Mazyck said, the highest interest being charged to someone needing a small-dollar loan in South Carolina—also called a payday loan—is more than 900 percent.
In 2020, South Carolina United Methodists at Annual Conference passed a resolution to combat predatory lending.
“I believe the involvement of United Methodist clergy and laity played a role in preventing the legislation from being defeated,” Mazyck said in celebrating the carry-over.
The South Carolina Legislative Session begins on the second Tuesday of January of each year and typically adjourns on the second Thursday in May. To learn more, visit https://www.scstatehouse.gov