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By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina is dusting off its electric chair and trying to restart executions in the state after going nearly 10 years without putting an inmate to death.

A House Committee voted 14-7 on Tuesday to make electrocution the default for an execution.

The bill now goes to the House floor while a similar bill is on the Senate floor.

Right now, inmates can choose between electrocution and the current default method of lethal injection. Because the state doesn't have the drugs to put an inmate to death, South Carolina is under a de facto moratorium on the death penalty.

South Carolina last put an inmate to death nearly 10 years ago and its supply of lethal injection drugs has since expired. In the decade before that, the state executed 17 people.

Inmates are reaching the end of their appeals, but executions have been postponed, prison officials said. Gov. Henry McMaster asked lawmakers to find a way to restart the death penalty in his State of the State speech last month.

“We have a lawful statute in South Carolina that cannot be carried out," said Republican Rep. Weston Newton of Bluffton.

South Carolina lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried several ways over the past few years to bring executions back. There have been bills to shield the names of companies that provide lethal injection drugs from the public and bills supporting alternate methods such as the firing squad or electrocution.

There were about 60 people on death row on May 6, 2011, when Jeffrey Motts was the latest person to be executed in the state, for killing a fellow inmate. Now because of natural deaths and courts overturning death sentences and prosecutors accepting life sentences, death row is down to 37 prisoners.

Prosecutors also have stopped seeking death sentences. Just three new inmates have ended up on death row in the past decade.

On Monday, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill ending capital punishment in that state, which has executed more people than anyone in the country.

Some noted the bid for a different direction in South Carolina.

“We’re over here talking about making it easier to kill people," said South Carolina Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg.

Bamberg also brought up George Stinney, the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. He was 14 when he was sent to the electric chair in 1944 for killing two white girls. A judge threw out the Black teen's conviction in 2014.

South Carolina began using its electric chair in 1912 after taking over the death penalty from counties, which usually used hanging. The state added lethal injection in the mid-1990s after concerns elsewhere about whether the electric chair was too barbaric.

Lethal injection was made the default for inmates who did not choose. Condemned prisoners could still choose electrocution, but just two of the past 37 inmates put to death opted for the electric chair.

One Republican joined Democrats in voting against the bill. Rep. Neal Collins of Easley said the majority of the 37 inmates on death row come from just four of the state's 46 counties. More than half are Black in a state where African Americans make up about a quarter of the population. And the vast majority of those Blacks on death row killed a white victim.

“You just can’t get past these statistics," said Collins, who is a lawyer in private practice who assisted in a death penalty case.

Supporters of the bill didn't speak much at Tuesday's hearing. Rep. Micah Caskey read a few paragraphs detailing the crimes that put one of the latest prisoners on to death row — a father who killed his five children, all under 9 years of age.

“The death penalty exists for the guilty,” said Caskey, a Republican from West Columbia, "The death penalty exists because there are some crimes for which the only justice that can be had is death.”

___

Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tags: Associated Press, legislation, prisons, South Carolina, Virginia

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Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: Hold me to it

The head of the House Budget Committee said Friday in no uncertain terms that Democrats will find a way to hike the minimum wage over the next two years.

"I guarantee you there'll be a raise in the minimum wage before the election," Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats call for relief package to waive taxes on unemployment benefits Democrats in standoff over minimum wage On The Money: Neera Tanden's nomination in peril after three GOP noes | Trump rages after SCOTUS rules on financial records MORE (D-Ky.) told reporters in the Capitol. "Hold me to it."

Yarmuth and other Democratic leaders had sought to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour — a priority of President BidenJoe BidenBiden 'disappointed' in Senate parliamentarian ruling but 'respects' decision Taylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Donald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' MORE's — as part of their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which is expected to pass through the lower chamber late Friday or early Saturday.

But while House Democrats are sticking to that draft, the minimum wage provision will have a short lifespan in the Senate, where the parliamentarian has ruled that the chamber guidelines don't allow the wage hike to move under the budget procedure, known as reconciliation, that's governing the COVID-19 relief package.

That means the minimum wage provision will be stripped out of the Senate bill, and the relief package sent back to the House, raising some questions as to whether liberal proponents of the minimum wage increase will support a stimulus package that excludes it.

Yarmuth said Friday that there's no indication liberals like Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden 'disappointed' in Senate parliamentarian ruling but 'respects' decision House Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Bill would strip pension for president convicted of felony MORE (D-Wash.) or Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezClimate change rears its ugly head, but Biden steps up to fight it Meghan McCain grills Psaki on 'hypocrisy' over migrant children facility Ocasio-Cortez slams use of robotic police dog in Bronx community MORE (D-N.Y.) would sink the larger stimulus bill just to protest the absence of the minimum wage.

"I have not talked to one member who said they were going to vote against the bill if this didn't get in," Yarmuth said.

And Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster House Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow MORE (D-Calif.) delivered a similar prediction moments earlier, telling reporters that House Democrats will "absolutely" pass the coronavirus bill even with the wage provision stripped out.

Pelosi, like Yarmuth, also vowed to make the wage increase a reality this Congress.

"This is a value, this is a priority," she said. "We will get it done."

It's unclear how Democrats intend to make good on their promise to raise the wage this Congress, given the 50-50 split in the Senate. Yarmuth noted that House Democrats are prepping another reconciliation package in the months to come, although it's unclear why the parliamentarian would rule any differently on the topic the next time around.

Yarmuth said the surest strategy would be for Senate Democrats to eliminate the chamber's 60-vote threshold, which allows the minority party to block virtually all controversial proposals.

"The way we do it is to do away with the filibuster," he said.

Bolstering the Democrats' effort, public opinion polls indicate overwhelming support for the wage hike. A Reuters/Ipsos survey released Thursday found that 59 percent of voters support the $15 level, versus 34 percent who opposed it. Such numbers might make it difficult for Senate Republicans to oppose an update to the minimum wage, which Congress has not increased since 2007, when it went up to $7.25 per hour.

Democrats are already warning that if Republicans block the wage hike, it'll be used against them on the campaign trail heading into the 2022 midterms.

"I think the more important question is: what kind of price are the Republicans — both in Congress and outside who have opposed this ... what kind of price are they going to pay?" said Yarmuth.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Pramila Jayapal Nancy Pelosi John Yarmuth Joe Biden Minimum wage

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