Governor Nikki Haley signed new legislation Thursday aimed at reducing conflicts of interest on local government boards and commissions.
The bill was originally written by Rep. Roland Smith (R-Aiken) as a way to remove an employee in Aiken County who was serving as both the staff secretary for and a commissioner of a local water board. Smith said the employee refused to step down, despite the apparent conflict of interest.
However, Haley vetoed the bill in February, calling it unconstitutional. She explained her reasoning in a Thursday press conference.
In the General Assembly, there are a lot of traditions that take place. I, as a House member, knew that whenever local legislation came up, that local delegation voted on it, and then it moved on. What I didn’t know is every time that happens, it is unconstitutional.
The reason why is due to “home rule,” the ability of a local government– such as a county– to control what happens in an unincorporated area. Otherwise, that area would fall under the state’s control.
After the governor’s veto, Smith wrote a new bill that would apply to the entire state. It passed both bodies unanimously. Haley said it fixed the problem and she signed it into law Thursday. She said she hoped to stop the Legislature from passing local bills in the future.
What they do is, they Band-Aid a situation that, if they were to go up against the courts… would be unconstitutional. Everything we should do in this Statehouse should be constitutional.
Some local bills are considered constitutional, such as those that deal with schools and school districts.
Smith said he agreed with the governor that the old bill was unconstitutional. He said he made the new one apply statewide in order to stop future conflicts of interest on other state, county, town, and political district boards.
We have the law on the books (that) says you can’t be the master and a servant. But the State Ethics Commission didn’t have the teeth to enforce that. Now they have the teeth.
The bill would eliminate a loophole that allowed a person to hold both jobs if their financial affairs were not affected. It would also require a fine of $50 per day if the employee did not vacate one position or the other.
Smith said the Aiken County incident is the only one he’s aware of. He says the employee in question has to choose whether she wants to remain a commissioner or the board’s secretary.