The South Carolina Senate pumped the brakes on the so-called Stone Bill Thursday, tapping a group of senators and representatives to discuss and work out the differences in the legislation.
But the move is more procedural than perilous for the bill, which could pass the Legislature as soon as next week.
After being approved by the South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday, the bill – which would increase production capacities and distribution means for brewpubs and work to attract larger breweries to the state – moved on to the Senate attached as an amendment to another bill dealing with alcohol, H 3512. The move helped eliminate the need for debate on the bill as a separate piece of legislation, and it looked to pass this week.
But when it reached the Senate Thursday morning, there was some confusion regarding the wording of the amendment, and the whole bill was referred to a conference committee to work out the minutiae before a final vote in both chambers.
What is a conference committee? This is how I explained it on Facebook:
The President Pro Tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House will each select three legislators from their respective chambers. Those lawmakers will get together next week to discuss and work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Generally, the committee can remove things from the bill but not add to it, but it’s expected they’ll request “free conference powers” that will allow them to add language to the legislation is wanted. Conference committees are common when House and Senate bills differ and doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad for the bill. In this case, it’s simply a way to work out how the amendment (which the brewpub language now is) should be worded.
Once the committee comes to an agreement on the legislation, a report is returned to each chamber for a vote. If it passes, it goes to Gov. Nikki Haley to be signed into law. That could all happen as early as next week and will certainly be done by the time the Legislature adjourns June 5.
Thursday afternoon, the members of the conference committee were selected. From the Senate are Sen. Sean Bennett (R-Dorchester), Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) and Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Horry), and from the House are Rep. Derham Cole (R-Spartanburg), Rep. James Merrill (R-Berkley) and Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland).
Is this a bad thing for the bill? Not at all. As I said before, conference committees are a very common thing, especially when there are differences in House and Senate versions of the bill. It’s just a way for legislators to hash out differences in their respective chambers’ versions of the bill. Granted, the committee could nix the entire legislation or remove all of the language relating to brewpubs, but there is no indication that will happen, and the committee as assembled is half legislators who sponsored and supported the bill and half legislators who are expected to be in favor of it.
In the meantime, contact the committee members and urge them to support the bill, and keep your eyes on the Create SC Beer Jobs website for more details on what you can do to help.
If you’re looking for an even more detailed explanation of what’s been going on, this video from Wesley Donehue lays it all out and definitely worth a look.