COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division is investigating threats against state lawmakers over the Confederate flag.
SLED Chief Mark Keel confirmed in a press release "a number of threatening communications" had been sent to members of the state's General Assembly over the flag.
"We recognize the First Amendment protections offered for free speech," Keel said in a statement. "That's not what this is about. Legislators on both sides of the issue have received communications that include death threats. That's not free speech; it's illegal to threaten to kill or injure a public official or their immediate family."
Keel recognized the "strong emotions" on both sides of the issue, adding that SLED's goal is to keep the discussion on a "constructive path that will be best for all South Carolinians."
"To threaten the life or well-being of a lawmaker or their family is inexcusable," he said in the statement.
Keel said the agency will work with law enforcement partners at all levels in South Carolina and elsewhere to investigate, make arrests and bring those responsible for the threats to justice.
The news comes as lawmakers in the State House debate a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
State Representatives began debating 26 amendments for the bill Wednesday morning.
All of the amendments were introduced by Rep. Mike Pitts, who has 20 minutes to talk about each one, which adds up to about eight hours. But Rep. Todd Rutherford said before the session began that he did not think it would take that long.
"I can tell you that a number of Democrats and Republicans are on the same page," Rutherford said. "There are obviously some outliers -- we have 124 members -- each one has the opportunity to have their say and we're going to allow them to do that. What we will have is a good debate. We look forward to that and we look forward to talking about the flag."
A second reading of the bill cannot take place until all amendments have been voted on.