The state Legislature has given final approval to a bill that would allow first-time offenders the opportunity to have a disorderly conduct charge erased from their criminal record under certain conditions.
The bill was passed earlier this year but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster in late May. The General Assembly returned on June 25 and voted overwhelmingly to overturn the veto.
State Rep. Seth Rose, an attorney and Columbia Democrat, was the primary sponsor of the disorderly conduct legislation. Republican state Reps. Peter McCoy of Charleston and Micah Caskey of Lexington County co-sponsored the bill.
The law lets a first-time offender charged with public disorderly conduct to get a one-time chance to have that misdemeanor discharged and their associated criminal records expunged. Among other conditions, they must pay a $150 fine.
Rose points out the state already had a law in place that allowed for first-time offenders who are accused of simple drug possession to have that charge erased. He said it seemed natural to have a first disorderly conduct treated the same way.
"The point is, why should somebody be able to have an illegal drug in their pocket and be eligible for [a conditional discharge], but somebody has a bad night, has too much to drink, gets a disorderly conduct and they can't avail themselves of the same program?" Rose tells Free Times.
McMaster, a former U.S. Attorney and state attorney general, wrote in his May 28 veto of the bill that he "believe[s] in grace" and recognizes the challenges people encounter when they apply for jobs and have a criminal charge on their record.
"To this end, second chances should be freely given when individuals have made mistakes and paid their debts to society; however, criminal history, like all history, should not be erased," McMaster wrote. "Rather, compassion should be informed by fact and should not be forced upon unwitting prospective employers and other interested parties.
"An individual’s criminal history can be instructive, but it need not be destructive. When complicated, one’s criminal history can be contextualized and considered in light of the totality of the circumstances."
Rose, who represents north central Columbia's District 72, says the governor reached out to him before issuing the veto.
"I was appreciative that he did call me and we had a very good conversation about the bill prior to him vetoing it," Rose says. "I thought that was very professional of him to call and discuss it. We had a very good, very cordial conversation."
Rose is in his first term in the Legislature after serving on Richland County Council. Despite being a rookie in the minority party, he was able to get several bills into law this year, including a rideshare safety initiative that came on the heels of a March kidnapping and killing of a University of South Carolina student after authorities said she got into a car she mistakenly believed to be her Uber ride.
While public disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor, Rose says he thought it was important to give first-time offenders a pathway to having it erased from their record.
"There's a lot that needs to be done with criminal justice reform," Rose says. "Even though something may be deemed minuscule, if it needs to be changed to improve our law and be progressive, I'm going to do it."