COLUMBIA -- Law enforcement officers won't be given expanded authority to search criminals free on probation and parole unless supporters in the House can pull off a last-ditch effort to pass warrantless searches.
The House on Tuesday fell 16 votes short of the number needed to override a veto by Gov. Mark Sanford on the bill. In a vote of 58-53, the House sustained the veto, but supporters have one last chance to ask their colleagues to reconsider the vote.
Lawmakers could reconsider the vote as early as today.
The Senate voted 36-7 to override the veto last week.
Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, said law enforcement officers have many tools at hand to fight crime, including obtaining a warrant from a judge to search parolees and probationers.
"The next time you see this bill, I would tell you that it would say sex offenders on it and the time after that it will say murderers on it and the time after that they will just come and tell us it is the standard procedure,"
Crawford said. "We are eroding our civil liberties."
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said he is extremely disappointed in the House vote. He went to great lengths to push for the bill's introduction and passage as a way to fight repeat offenders who terrorize the community.
Riley said the bill deals with people who have been convicted of a crime, and they would have the right to stay in prison to serve out their sentences or finish their time in the community on the condition that they could be searched with or without a warrant.
"There isn't a logical argument against this," Riley said. "We're going to keep fighting. We are not going to give up."
The governor wrote in his veto message that granting law enforcement the authority for warrantless searches will not guarantee a safer South Carolina, but he said the bill's passage would diminish individual rights.
Tuesday's vote followed a spirited debate among representatives, who had voted 81-26 in February to give the bill key approval. On the day of that vote, dozens of law enforcement officers gathered in the House balcony to encourage the bill's passage.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, tried to rally support to overturn Sanford's veto. Gilliard said he has trust in law enforcement not to abuse the power, given the diversity in the ranks and the policies in place to protect justice.
"Young kids are dying," Gilliard said. "Now is not the time to turn your back on the victims. We have a chance to stand up for what's right."
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said he wants the House to override the veto, and encourages law enforcement officers to contact legislators to tell them why the legislation is important.
Harrell said he considered the Tuesday vote a "test" to see how much work is left to build the support needed to override.
"This bill is an attempt to do something about our horrendous crime rate in South Carolina," Harrell said.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, who championed the bill, said he is hopeful that the proposal can be resurrected, but deeply disappointed it had come to this.
Law enforcement officials from across the state banded together in support of the proposal, explained the need repeatedly and did all they could to alleviate lawmakers' concerns, he said.
"To be at the last hurdle and not be able to win the race is just kind of deflating," he said. "I feel the elected officials are saying they don't think our voice is important because clearly they haven't helped us with this vote."