Governor Flip-Flopping on Local Legislation?

September 21, 2012

Investigative Reports

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FlippingIn February, Gov. Nikki Haley again drew a line in the sand.

“Since the beginning of my Administration, I have been clear that I will veto local legislation that is clearly unconstitutional,” Haley wrote in vetoing H. 4723, which dealt with the governing commission of the Berea Water and Sewer District in Greenville County.

Haley in her Feb. 27 veto message said the bill, sponsored by fellow Republican Dwight Loftis of Greenville County, was unconstitutional because it violated the home-rule provisions of the S.C. Constitution, which “prohibit the enactment of state laws affecting one county.”

Haley used that same reasoning in June in vetoing another bill (H. 3790), sponsored by Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, which created the Bamberg County Water and Sewer Authority,

“For too long, the General Assembly has involved itself in entirely local issues like providing water and sewer services to county and municipal residents, which violate Home Rule,” Haley wrote in her June 27 veto message.

But a review by The Nerve of legislation that passed this year found that Haley signed at least a dozen bills dealing with issues affecting only one county or several counties.

The local bills include:

  • S. 1298, sponsored by Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, which changed Florence School District 3’s budgeting process;
  • S. 1492, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, which gives parents in Anderson County the option of sending their children to a school district located on either side of their property where their home is located if a district boundary line bisects their property;
  • H. 3947, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Todd Rutherford and Jimmy Bales of Richland County, which ended the governor’s appointment authority over part of the Richland-Lexington Airport Commission and transferred that authority to the Richland and Lexington County legislative delegations, and Columbia City Council;
  • H. 4434, sponsored by Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson and the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, which changed the name of the Pendleton District Agricultural Museum to the “Bart Garrison Agricultural Museum of South Carolina”; and
  • H. 4983, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, which changed the boundaries of certain bird sanctuaries in York County for hunting purposes.

The Nerve’s analysis did not include local bills that dealt with reapportionment, or the redrawing of county or other local voting precincts because of population changes reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census.

The Nerve on Thursday sent a written message to Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey seeking an explanation of why the governor signed some local bills but not others. As has been the practice of the Governor’s Office when dealing with The Nerve, no response was given.

Haley’s veto of the H. 4723 dealing with the Berea Water and Sewer District was overridden by the House but sustained in the Senate. Both chambers overrode her veto of H. 3790 creating the Bamberg County Water and Sewer District.

Contacted Thursday, Sellers, the author of H. 3790, criticized Haley’s veto.

“My piece of local legislation helped create infrastructure,” he said, “so we can get more jobs that will bring us out of the double-digit unemployment (in Bamberg County).”

Sellers, an attorney, disagreed with Haley’s contention that his bill violated the state constitution.

Initially, the bill passed the House on a voice vote and made it through the Senate on the critical second reading with only one recorded vote, legislative records show. Historically, the General Assembly has let county legislative delegations pass local bills without interference.

Haley in her June 27 veto message said she believed that “members who fail to vote are supporting the violation of our constitution that we have sworn to uphold.”

But Sellers told The Nerve that any lawmaker was allowed to vote on his bill at any time, adding, “It’s not as if the voting process is cut off in the General Assembly.”

The S.C. Constitution under Article III prohibits local bills that would:

  • Change the names of persons or places;
  • Incorporate cities, towns or villages;
  • Incorporate educational, religious, charitable, social, manufacturing or banking institutions not under the control of the state;
  • Incorporate school districts;
  • Authorize the adoption of children;
  • Provide for the protection of game; and
  • Summon and empanel grand or petit juries.

“In all other cases,” according to the constitution, “where a general law can be made applicable, no special law shall be enacted,” except for wages paid to county officers.

Nerve reporter/researcher Roy Harmon contributed to this story. Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.