2 lawmakers could come off airport board

The 13-member board that oversees Charleston International Airport would by cut by two under a bill in the Statehouse.

The size of Charleston’s airport board could soon get smaller, leaving former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford without a seat.

For the second consecutive legislative session, lawmakers are trying to remove two of their own from the Charleston County Aviation Authority. Sanford sits in for one of them as a proxy.

This time, the bill stands a good chance of passing after a local legislator said he won’t stand in the way as he did during the last attempt.

Sens. Chip Campsen and Larry Grooms, both Charleston Republicans, are co-sponsoring a bill to repeal a law passed in 2007 that gave the chairman and vice chairman of the Charleston County legislative delegation seats on the Aviation Authority, giving it 13 members.

Campsen has said the 2007 law is unconstitutional. He currently chairs the delegation and has appointed Sanford to sit in for him.

Sanford did not immediately return a call for comment on the legislation, but Campsen said she is aware of the possible outcome.

A similar bill was introduced two years ago, but it died because Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, wanted the courts to settle a case involving the law. That complaint, filed in 2012, is scheduled to be heard by the S.C. Court of Appeals on March 3.

Ed Sloan, a retired paving contractor behind the S.C. Public Interest Foundation, filed the lawsuit with Charleston attorney Waring Howe. Howe was chairman of the airport board several years ago.

The suit, filed against Limehouse and others, alleged, among other things, that the General Assembly violated the state Constitution by passing legislation specific to one county.

Limehouse alternatively served as chairman and vice chairman of the delegation for several years, automatically placing him on the Aviation Authority, where he served as chairman until early 2013.

“At the time we put these two legislators on the board, there were a lot of problems at the airport,” Limehouse said.

He is no longer chairman or vice chairman of the delegation. Campsen is chairman and Rep. Peter McCoy of Charleston is vice chairman. McCoy, too, believes the 2007 law is unconstitutional and declines to sit on the Aviation Authority or appoint someone to represent him.

Limehouse says he won’t stand in the way of the bill’s passage this time because he believes conditions have changed at the airport for the better.

“It’s all been for the positive,” he said.

Sloan and Howe are appealing a 2013 circuit court decision. Judge Markley Dennis didn’t rule on the merits of the lawsuit, but he found the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, namely because Sloan lives in the Upstate.

Campsen said the legislation to repeal the 2007 law would render that lawsuit moot.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously. It now is in the House Education and Public Works Committee.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.