8-year-old takes on S.C. lawmakers in fossil fight

LAKE CITY, S.C. -- Eight-year-old Olivia McConnell, from New Zion, S.C., is so passionate about science, she can be found searching for -- and finding -- shark's teeth in the playground sand during recess.

Asked why she spends her recess looking for shark's teeth, Olivia replies, "Well, I like fossils."

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Olivia McConnell
CBS News
Her love of fossils led her to discover that South Carolina has no official state fossil. She knew one of the first fossils found in North America, from an ancient kind of woolly mammoth, was dug up in South Carolina, so she wrote to Gov. Nikki Haley and other state lawmakers to lay out the case.

"I wanted it to be the state fossil because I didn't want that history to be lost, and our state to not get credit for it," Olivia says. "If something's wrong I've got to help out. It's just the right thing to do. That's what I'm all about."

At the state Capitol, Olivia's letter went to her senator, Kevin Johnson, who thought a state fossil was a great idea.

"I thought it would just fly through the House and through the Senate, and we'd have the governor pass it with no problem," Johnson says.

But then, big problem: Several highly religious senators stalled the bill by attaching whole passages from the Bible's Book of Genesis. The senators, including Mike Fair, said the Creator of the mammoth should be recognized, as well.

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South Carolina state Sen. Mike Fair
CBS News
"There had to be a cause to the beginning," Fair says. "It didn't happen accidentally."

But now, Fair admits he did not understand who he was dealing with. Olivia and her family pushed back hard. They also believe in the Bible, but they don't want religion attached to a fossil law. Fair and the others were motivated to compromise.

"The fact that an 8-year-old was doing this was remarkable and something we should celebrate," Fair says.

Right now, the bill remains stalled in committee, but Olivia will not budge -- ever. She says she'll "keep going until they pass the bill."

"Maybe it might not be until I'm 23 or 40," Olivia says. "If it doesn't pass this year, I'm going to be back next year."

In the meantime, they can find Olivia on the playground, digging up history -- not yet realizing how a third-grade girl facing down the state Senate might have made some history of her own.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.

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