Sanford Nixes Licensing Exception

July 15, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveIn the S.C. General Assembly, there’s constituent service – proclamations and congratulations and the like – and then there’s constituent service – back scratching and toadying and so forth.

The former is usually harmless; the latter, sometimes nefarious.

As this year’s legislative session was wrapping up a couple of weeks ago, the House upheld a veto by Gov. Mark Sanford of a bill that he alleged sprang partly from the unseemly side of constituent service at the State House.

But not so, says the sponsor of the proposal Sanford opposed, Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Clarendon.

Still, Land openly acknowledges that he backed the measure in an effort to help an Arkansas resident who is the son of one of the senator’s friends.

Both the House and Senate must vote against a veto by a two-thirds margin to override it.

That didn’t happen in this case, so Sanford’s veto of the bill stands.

The otherwise noncontroversial subject of this political crossfire: state hunting licenses.

In March, the House passed a hunting license bill sponsored by Republican Rep. G. Murrell Smith of Sumter.

To obtain a hunting license, people born after June 30, 1979, must first complete a brief education program. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources, which administers hunting licensing, oversees the program and offers it at various times and locations across the state. The class also is available online, and it’s free unless taken via the Internet.

The Department of Natural Resources has set up a licensing matrix with more options, requirements and variations than a hunter can fire buckshot at.

But for the purposes of this legislative lowdown, the important part of the schematic is a restriction on lifetime hunting licenses: Folks who are not residents of South Carolina cannot get one.

Smith’s bill, H. 3975, would have exempted “resident active duty, honorably discharged or retired members” of the U.S. military from the education program requirement, with one stipulation: They would have to prove that they completed rifle marksmanship training during their military service.

After the House approved the bill in March it was sent to the Senate, where Land succeeding in getting it amended.

Land’s amendment would have allowed non-state residents to obtain a lifetime combination hunting and fishing license if they were born in South Carolina, owned land in the state for at least five years prior to applying for a lifetime license and met a couple of other criteria.

Also, the special exception for non-Palmetto Staters would have been available only this month through September.

After some further churning in the legislative process, the bill cleared the General Assembly and went to Sanford, who vetoed it on June 21.

Eight days later, on June 29, the House voted 104-1 to sustain the veto.

The governor did not oppose exempting qualified military personnel from the hunter education program requirement. Rather, Sanford took issue with creating a special exception to the restriction on lifetime licenses for a narrowly defined group of out-of-state residents.

“Our understanding is that the bizarre combination of the birthplace and property ownership requirements and the unusual application period was drafted, not because it represents a good policy, but because one senator is trying to do a favor for one of his out-of-state friends,” Sanford told House members in a written 411 accompanying his veto. “We believe this kind of favoritism is an abuse of the legislative power, and we simply cannot support this bill.”

Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, cast the lone vote to override the governor’s veto.

Howard says he was focused not on the lifetime license special exception, but instead on making it easier for military personnel to obtain a hunting license. “They’re trained to deal with firearms,” he says. “I just didn’t think it was necessary to put them through extra hardship.”

Smith sided with the overwhelming majority in voting to uphold the veto of his own bill. He describes Land’s amendment as “bobtailing,” or tacking something onto a bill that’s not germane to it. “What the Senate professes they don’t do,” Smith says.

The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled bobtailing unconstitutional.

Smith and Land are in the same legislative delegation and Smith says he has the utmost respect for Land. But he says the senator’s addendum was a poison pill that ruined his bill.

“It was not worth accepting that amendment to have the bill,” Smith says, adding that he thought it was deleted before the legislation landed on the governor’s desk. “You can’t go making exceptions for one person.”

Smith says he will try again next year to pass his original measure to help military personnel.

For his part, Land says he made no secret of what he was trying to do, informing the Senate of his intentions repeatedly.

“It wasn’t like the governor sent out private detectives and found out,” he says. “I mean that’s just his silliness. I thought the governor would jump on that (amendment) as a libertarian. Some folks think you ought not have to have a license to hunt on your own land.”

Land says one of his friends in his home county, Larry Ellis, has a son who was born and raised in Clarendon and owns hundreds of acres in South Carolina. But the son did not think to acquire a lifetime hunting license before moving to Arkansas for employment reasons, Land says. “A lot of folks don’t think about it.”

And Land, who says he holds a lifetime hunting license, says the special exception could have applied to anyone who met the criteria.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@scpolicycouncil.com.