Politics & Government

SC lawmakers discussing Confederate flag’s removal; Haley to hold 4 p.m. news conference

The Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse, Friday, June 19, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.
The Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse, Friday, June 19, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. AP

Gov. Nikki Haley plans a news conference Monday afternoon amid growing speculation that South Carolina leaders are ready to call for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

Debate about the flag, long a source of a controversy in the state where the Civil War began, intensified after nine parishioners at an African-American church in Charleston were shot to death Wednesday during an evening Bible study session.

Police have charged a 21-year-old Columbia-area man, who spouted racist statements and was featured in photos holding the Confederate flag.

Haley, a Lexington Republican, is meeting with state political leaders Monday ahead of her 4 p.m. news conference. The office of House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, confirmed he is meeting with Haley at 1 p.m.

The GOP-dominated General Assembly has the final authority on removing the Confederate flag from the State House.

State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, said Monday lawmakers have been on the phone in recent days talking about the Confederate flag.

Smith said there is a “growing consensus among lawmakers – House, Senate, Republicans and Democrats” – to resolve the flag issue before the next legislative session begins.

Smith said lawmakers have the ability vote on removing the flag this summer by amending a resolution that has allowed them to continue working after the regular session ended in early June.

Removing the flag requires a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate. The Legislature has not passed a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and could add an amendment about the flag. Lawmakers also could amend their resolution to adjourn and add a bill on removing the flag.

Lucas was vague about what should happen to the flag in a statement released Monday.

“Moving South Carolina forward from this terrible tragedy requires a swift resolution of this issue,” he said.

His office would not say whether the House plans to take action.

Two Republican House members said they would back removing the flag.

The Confederate flag has been divisive symbol at the S.C. State House for 53 years.

The flag flies next to the Confederate Memorial near Gervais and Main streets as part of a 2000 compromise to move the flag from atop the capitol dome. The flag started flying under the American and South Carolina flags atop the dome in 1962.

But the church shooting that has rocked the nation has increased calls for removing the flag from the grounds.

In the first days after the shooting, Haley told reporters that she welcomed a debate on removing the flag but wanted to focus on helping the victims’ families and the state recover from the shootings.

She has not called for the flag’s removal in the past.

During an October gubernatorial debate, Haley said the Civil War symbol was not a problem for the state. She was criticized when she said no chief executives with operations in the state complained to her about the flag.

Haley, the daughter of Indian-American immigrants, also said that her election along with the appointment of South Carolina’s first African-American U.S. senator, Tim Scott, was proof the state’s race relations have changed.

But the killings of nine Emanuel AME parishioners visibly shook Haley.

She nearly came to tears at a news conference discussing the arrest of Dylann Roof on Thursday. Her voice cracked while speaking at a church vigil an hour later.

Haley and her family attended services Sunday at Emanuel AME Church, the first services at the historic downtown Charleston church since the shooting.

Those killed in the massacre were State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41, also the church’s pastor; Tywanza Sanders, 26; the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Cynthia Hurd, 54; and DePayne Middeton-Doctor, 49. Funeral services for some of the victims are planned this week.

Staff writer Jamie Self contributed.

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