COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A Senate committee on Tuesday adopted a plan that puts a new U.S. House district in the northeast part of the state and addresses some concerns raised at a public hearing packed by that area's residents.
The 17-5 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the plan and moved it to the to the Senate floor for debate. Senate Judiciary Chairman Glenn McConnell said debate on the proposal could begin as early as Thursday on the Senate floor and likely won't be completed until next week.
Redistricting is required every decade so that legislative and congressional districts reflect population changes and meet certain requirements. The new maps require federal approval under the Voting Rights Act, to ensure they don't discriminate against minorities in a state with a history of inequitable treatment of black voters. South Carolina is picking up a seventh U.S. House seat to account for population growth - returning a seat the Palmetto State lost in 1930 as population fell.
On Monday, dozens of voters from Horry, Florence and other counties in the state's northeast asked senators to put them in the new U.S. House district instead of splitting among other districts. The proposal the committee approves anchors that new district in Florence and Horry counties. It also includes Darlington, Lee, Marlboro, Dillon and Marion counties and part of Sumter county.
While residents of that proposed coastal district were concerned about sticking together, so were residents of Greenville County. The state's largest county in population wanted to be represented by a district it would anchor with no splits into other districts. A Judiciary staff plan initially had split Greenville County into two counties, but the plan that is advancing leaves it one district with most of Spartanburg County.
Pickens Republican Sen. Larry Martin liked the proposal.
"I think we've done a good job of responding to the concerns that were expressed there," Martin said. Greenville "deserves that character of having its borders contained within a congressional district."
But Beaufort Republican Sen. Tom Davis said the proposal splits 11 counties instead of eight in another plan, arguing that counties are a basic element of shared community interest. "I think we're making mistake in going forward with a plan that has a greater number of county splits," said Davis, who voted against the proposal.
Martin said that should not be an issue when it comes to getting federal approval for the plan.
Split counties were a big issue, too, for Spartanburg County senators, who voted against the proposal after their county was divided between the 4th and 5th Districts. Republican Sen. Lee Bright of Roebuck said he'd try to amend the plan as the Senate debated it.
The panel also rejected plans submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union and the state Democratic Party.
The ACLU proposal created a new district with a black majority. The Democratic Party's plan eliminated the state's only black majority district, arguing that spreading black population into more districts would make them more competitive.
The House has approved its own version of the U.S. House district lines. Martin said the two versions will have to be reconciled in a conference committee.
The House has approved new district lines for its 124 seats and the Senate for its 46 seats.
On Tuesday, the House gave initial approval to the Senate seat plan with a unanimous vote.