South Carolina’s roster of nearly 50 state symbols might end there if on lawmaker has his way.
A bill by Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, is up for debate by a Senate panel and would put an end to all acts naming new state symbols.
Some of the Palmetto State’s symbols are traditional and noted by most state, like a state flower, the Yellow Jessamine, or a state bird, the Carolina Wren. But others are obscure, like the state tartan or the state migrating marine mammal, the northern right whale.
Every few years a new idea comes to the Statehouse, often from school children or industry interest groups.
Last year a 9-year-old Lexington girl whose family sells collard greens asked her Senator, Jake Knotts, to make the leafy green the state’s official vegetable.
That’s when Peeler decided the state has enough “state whatevers” to call its own, because the legislature has more pressing priorities.
“Where is the stopping point? We have a state beverage, which is milk, and I like that, then we have an official state hospitality beverage and that’s tea. Well are we going to continue on and on? We need a stopping place and now’s the time.”
He said his bill is necessary because it is difficult to say no to young students, but that all the time spent on frivolous bills adds up when issues like the economy and unemployment need immediate attention.
“It does take time, it takes debate, it takes staff work, it takes printing, there’s a lot of costly things that we do, but you watch your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves,” Peeler said.
But Knotts said that in a legislature that spends a lot of time each session recognizing successful sports teams, professional groups and other accomplished South Carolinians, spending a few minutes to recognize part of the state’s history while helping students engage in the lawmaking process is time well-spent.
“It really doesn’t take much time and its things that we should be proud of in this state,” Knotts said. “We waste a lot of time on stuff up here that we should be spending our time better on, and we end up staying here until two o’clock in the morning doing nothing on big bills and then somebody gets up and makes an issue out of a certain symbol? Only thing I can say to those people is, get a life.”
Each week Cromer’s in Columbia sells bushels of the state snack, the boiled peanut. Owner Carolette Cromer Turner said boiled peanuts are a Southern delicacy and that it’s good for business that people associate them with South Carolina. She said having the salty snack officially on the books in 2006 made an even bigger impact because it’s something out-of-towners can look up and know it’s a genuine piece of the culture.
“We get a lot of visitors from out of state who come to the State House and some of them are sent here because they immediately want something that’s really Southern. Being a business that sells that, it’s just been that much more vital to have the state recognition,” Turner said. “Obviously there are more important things for lawmakers to deal with, but anything at all we can do to promote our state is a good thing.”
The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary committee late Tuesday afternoon, but was at the bottom of a long list of bills that have been stacking up for the prominent panel.