One-day S.C. House session stirs question on its necessity Two bills up for debate have some strong support

The South Carolina Statehouse

COLUMBIA - A special one-day S.C. House session Wednesday to debate and potentially override vetoes on two seemingly minor bills has some lawmakers scratching their heads. Others pushing for a vote on one of the measures say members under-appreciate its significance.

The two bills vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley have a small number of supporters: one allows librarians to kick out unruly patrons and police to charge them with a crime, and another allows for a property tax increase in Murrells Inlet. The two bills are hardly headline grabbers, and some members wonder why a special session is needed when the bills could be reintroduced in January.

"You can speculate and that's all it is, it's speculation," said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, of rumors about why the session was called by House Speaker Bobby Harrell. He and others declined to go into detail.

The roughly $34,000 cost to go back into session hasn't caused a stir within the Republican caucus, said Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston. Republicans recently gathered for their annual retreat in Myrtle Beach. "I kind of thought there would be some people who had made plans or were irritated and didn't want to go back. But it honestly didn't come up," Merrill said.

Harrell, R-Charleston, said he called the special session due to timing. Because the Republican majority S.C. Senate was embroiled in a controversy about whether to elect Democratic Sen. Yancey McGill to fill the spot of departing former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, they did not take up the two bills before the House adjourned for the year in June.

"Instead of sitting around for two days doing nothing, waiting for the Senate to act, we adjourned the House," Harrell said in a statement. "By returning (Wednesday), the House will now be able to act on this legislation from the other Chamber and do so by spending fewer days in special session and less of the taxpayers' dollars."

For Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, who is pushing the Murrells Inlet bill, the timing may seem strange but it's necessary to take it up before next year, he said.

Hardwick said he immediately asked Harrell to schedule a special session for the veto override. Most residents, he said, agree with a possible property tax rate hike. If a newly planned fire station is not constructed and adequately staffed in Murrells Inlet, home insurance rates would go up, Hardwick said, because the rural fire facility needs replacement. The county may not need to raise taxes, but county officials need the option for the new fire station, said Hardwick and Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, who sponsored the Senate bill.

"It is not an insignificant bill, I'd argue that with anybody," Hardwick said. "(Haley) had no business vetoing this bill. People are much more satisfied with paying a small additional property tax rate than being locked in to higher insurance rates. This isn't just raising taxes on people."

The bill, S. 293, raises the property tax cap on Murrell's Inlet-Garden City Fire District. The fire station there covers areas in Georgetown and Horry counties.

Haley said in a letter to the Senate explaining her veto that raising such caps almost inevitably mean higher taxes, something she could not support.

The other bill that was vetoed, S. 813, provides for criminal penalties for unruly library patrons and also allows librarians statewide more latitude to kick such patrons out when they are being unruly.

"I am vetoing this bill because it grants library employees wide authority to deprive citizens of their ability to use ... public libraries for an indefinite amount of time based on mere allegations of misconduct," Haley wrote in a letter to the Senate explaining her veto.

The Senate has already voted to overrule the governor's vetoes. The House would need a two-thirds vote to do the same or the vetoes will stand.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.