Dropouts would lose their licenses

Teens who drop out of school or miss too many classes could lose the right to drive under a bill working its way through the S.C. General Assembly.

A House subcommittee Tuesday approved a proposal to revoke the driver’s licenses or learner’s permits of teens – ages 15, 16 and 17 – who are expelled or drop out of school. North Carolina and Georgia already have similar laws.

Students who have seven or more unexcused absences from school also would lose their driving rights.

Waivers would be granted to teens who drop out to go to work and support themselves or their families, as well as teens enrolled in high-school equivalency – or General Educational Development – programs.

Any teen would be eligible for a driver’s license once he or she turns 18.

The bill was one of three concerning driving that came before House subcommittees. Panels also:

• Rejected a proposal to ban S.C. smokers from lighting up in cars when children are present

• Agreed to reclassify mo-peds as motor vehicles so that mo-ped drivers could be charged with driving under the influence

However, the drop-out driver bill received the most attention.

“This is not the silver bullet to the drop-out problem,” said state Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken. “But if we can stop just some kids from dropping out, it benefits society.”

About one in four S.C. high school students does not graduate four years after entering high school, according to 2010 state Department of Education data released last month.

The bill, which passed the House last year but failed to get a hearing before the state Senate, is backed by new state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais.

Still, some Democrats and Republicans have concerns.

“This is more government regulation, and everyone is going to say, ‘It’s a hardship (and request a waiver),’” said state Rep. Anne Thayer, R-Anderson, who voted against the bill.

The bill squeaked through, by a 3-2 vote. It next heads to a full House Education Committee for consideration.

State Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, the other dissenting voter, said the bill only would affect middle- and upper-class families. “If you’re poor and living in the projects, nine times out of 10 you don’t have a car anyway,” Mitchell said.

Families should discipline their drop-out children, rather than ask the state to do it, he added. “As much as we say to not let government rule the family, here we’re talking about letting the government teach a certain class of kids lessons.”

House subcommittee members unanimously opposed a proposal by state Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, to ban drivers and passengers from smoking when a child younger than 6 in a car seat is present.

Four states and Puerto Rico have similar laws.

Brady unsuccessfully argued the bill would help educate parents about the increased risks of asthma, ear infections and other childhood illnesses caused by second-hand smoke.

“We have to educate parents that it’s not just what they’re doing to themselves but what they’re doing to children,” Brady said.

But panel members called the bill overreaching and unenforceable.

“It would just clog the courts, trying to decide if they were smoking,” said state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York. “If parents don’t know that smoking is bad (by) now, passing a law isn’t going to change that.”

But the panel unanimously approved closing a loophole in the state’s drunken-driving laws.

The bill would reclassify mo-peds as motor vehicles so that mo-ped drivers could be charged with driving under the influence.

“They (law enforcement) need to have this tool in their arsenal … to keep the roads safe,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg.

“You can be impaired and drive a mo-ped, and we can’t charge you with a DUI,” said Department of Public Safety Director Mark Keel, who supports the bill. “It doesn’t make sense to me you can get charged (with a DUI) while driving a tractor or a riding lawn mower but not when you’re on a mo-ped.”

Mo-peds have been involved in more than 1,300 wrecks in the past three years in South Carolina, according to data from Public Safety Department. Those wrecks left 41 dead. It is not known how many of the wrecks involved a drunken person.

Courtesy of The State

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