COLUMBIA -- Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Friday that lawmakers have a chance to make South Carolina communities safer if they vote to overturn a veto by Gov. Mark Sanford.
Sanford this week blocked legislation from becoming law that would allow law enforcement to search criminals out on probation and parole without a warrant. He said it erodes personal liberty but provides no guarantee that repeat offenders will change their ways or that the state would become less violent.
Now, two-thirds of the lawmakers in the House and Senate must vote to overturn the veto when they reconvene later this month, or the legislation is dead for the year.
Riley said the bill had broad support when it passed the Legislature and that overriding the veto is possible.
The Senate first approved the measure last year without a roll call vote, and the House passed it Feb. 25 in a 81-26 vote. The Senate on March 23 approved the changes the House made, and the bill went to the governor.
"Our communities and law enforcement officers deserve every constitutional tool they can have to make us safer, and for the governor to invoke his personal views on personal liberty in
vetoing this legislation is an offense to every law-abiding citizen in the state," Riley said in a statement. "Legislation like this exists in many states and has been upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court."
The authority for warrantless searches is even more important now, Riley said. The state's financial crisis has overwhelmed the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, and the legislation would give police officers and sheriff's deputies the authority to help supervise offenders who are completing the sentences outside of the jailhouse, he said.
Sanford said the state must find a balance between an individual's fundamental rights bestowed by God and a society's need for law and order. Authorizing warrantless searches for probationers and parolees "goes too far," the governor said.
"I appreciate the jobs our law enforcement officers perform and recognize their need for tools and methods to keep South Carolinians safe, and from their vantage point I can see where it might aid them in their efforts and understand their advocacy," Sanford wrote in his veto message. "From the view of society at large, and the balance between efforts aimed at security and freedom, it goes too far in giving law enforcement a blanket grant of authority to conduct searches and seizures over a segment of our population regardless of whether there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the balance is tipped in favor of criminals. The legislation gives offenders the choice to serve their time behind bars or agree to be searched while completing their sentences in the community, he said.
To protect against concerns that law enforcement could abuse the authority to search without a warrant, Mullen said, agencies must have strong policies and provide good training and proper supervision.
"Where is the balance in terms of the safety of our citizens?" Mullen said.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said he will push for the veto to be overturned and expects that the votes are there to do so. An override would require 31 votes in the Senate and 83 in the House.
"Folks on probation and parole have already proven that they're criminals and all we've said is, as a condition of their probation and parole they have to agree to be searched by police while they are out in public," Harrell said. "If they didn't want to be searched they could just stay in prison."
The legislation is one of several anti-crime proposals before the Legislature this year.
Riley formed a statewide coalition made of mayors, police chiefs, solicitors and other officials to push the Legislature to give law enforcement new authority to counteract violence in the state. The goal of the coalition since it was created in January 2009 is to create a criminal justice system that offenders will take seriously.
Other anti-crime proposals are rolled up in a comprehensive bill aimed at freeing up prison space for the most violent criminals by diverting nonviolent offenders to the probation and parole system.