COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The South Carolina House of Representatives and the Senate have voted in favor of debating the Confederate flag issue in the waning days of the 2015 session.
House members voted 103-10 in favor of debate while the Senate voted in favor via voice vote.
Those votes came after an 11 a.m. rally attended by hundreds to push legislators to remove the flag from the State House grounds.
The vote allows legislators to debate and ultimately vote on proposals only relating to the Confederate flag.
South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas praised the vote, but once again pressed for swift action.
"It is clear that a majority believes a conversation should begin and the General Assembly should debate the placement of the Confederate soldier flag on the State House grounds," Lucas said in a statement.
Legislative action on the Confederate flag comes after the deadly shooting of nine African-American parishioners in Charleston, where the alleged shooter told investigators he hoped to start a "race war."
The flag currently flies in front of the State House near a Confederate soldier's monument. The legislators are expected to debate its removal when they come back to consider the governor's budget vetoes, which will likely be in a couple of weeks.
There will be strong arguments in both chambers to get rid of the flag, but the Senate may produce the most closely watched debate.
"The fact of the matter is it causes pain to 35 percent of South Carolinians," Sen. Tom Davis said. "And at a time like this in the aftermath of the Walter Scott murder we didn't riot in the streets like they did in Ferguson or Baltimore or New York. We went ahead and came together as a community and also came together in the General Assembly and we passed the nation's first law enforcement body camera law. And Clementa Pinckney led that charge. In the aftermath of his and eight others' murder last Wednesday evening, we have a chance to do something similarly positive. Something that will bring us together. That is to go ahead and take down the Confederate battle flag that admittedly is seen by many as a symbol of heritage and I respect that fact, but many have taken it as an emblem of hatred and this is the state house grounds. And the state house grounds belongs to all the people."
There are opponents of any measure to remove the flag. Some of the most vocal in the Senate, including Sen. Lee Bright, who has referred to the effort as a "Stalinist purge."