Aiken lawmaker seeks race harmony panels in each SC county

COLUMBIA -- An Aiken lawmaker is trying to create a “citizens relations” committee in each county to foster goodwill between groups and address discrimination.

Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, filed his bill at the end of January, long before the national outrage over the shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and prior to the second fatal shooting of a white police officer by black suspect in Aiken County.

Clyburn said the committees set up by his proposal, H. 4648, would have been helpful in the aftermath of the fatal shootings. But the idea for his bill stemmed from his desire to fill a role once served by the now-defunct county human relations board. The county council has not appointed enough people for it to function.

The 70-year-old lawmaker said he hopes the committees will help residents better understand “preconceived ideas about how people are treated in hiring and how people are treated because of race. A lot of times, it’s just a lack of communication.”

Under his bill, the governing body of each county would appoint a five-to-11 member citizens-relations committee. That panel would submit an annual report recommending legislation or other remedies to stop “unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and finance on the bases of age, gender, ethnicity, creed, marital status, national origin, physical or mental disability, and religion.”

Clyburn said he expects his proposal to advance smoothly.

“Before I put in the bill, I talked to movers and shakers in the General Assembly, I bounced it off them and off of my constituents to find out what their thoughts were.”

Clyburn said the now dormant human relations panel used to function well for the community, and he’d like to see it return. His official bio lists him as a former chairman of the Aiken County Human Relations Commission.

“I have found it to be that a lot of problems are centered around miscommunication and misrepresentation, and some self-serving kinds of things,” said Clyburn, who represents the 82nd House District, spanning Aiken and Edgefield counties.

“This is just to open the lines of communication to make life a little better for all of us, to have a group that is neutral.”

Aiken County Council Chairman Ronnie Young said this week he wasn’t involved in the bill. And councilman Willar Hightower said he and Clyburn had only had a casual conversations about it. Both Hightower and Aiken County administrator Clay Killian said the proposal sounded like a good idea.

Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, said Clyburn had not discussed the proposal with him, but that it fit with his colleague’s proactive tendencies.

Clyburn’s proposed committees, which he noted would cost nothing to operate, are also intended to ease communication among the racial, religious, and ethnic groups.

The legislation was filed on Jan. 24 and remains in committee.

“Believe it or not,” added Clyburn. “People are better than most of us think.”

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