The House voted to uphold Governor Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill that would have allowed South Carolinians to delete certain criminal convictions from their public records. It’s a process known as “expungement,” where a person who has stayed out of trouble for at least five years can clear their record in the public eye. Law enforcement will still have the convicton in their records.
Lawmakers two weeks ago passed the bill, which would have allowed those who apply for pardons from South Carolina to also request that their records be expunged. The law would not have allowed violent crimes to be hidden. The legislation originally passed the General Assembly with relative ease (98-7 in the House and 43-0 in the Senate).
However, the governor vetoed the bill after receiving a letter last week from State Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel. Keel said he was concerned the legislation was too broad and that people convicted of hit-and-run, child abandonment, and dealing drugs would be able to get those charges expunged.
Haley sided with Keel, whom she appointed to the post last year. “(B)usinesses and an communities (would be) unfairly deprived of the ability to be informed about the criminal histories of those caring for our children, minding our registers, and installing our alarm systems,” Haley wrote in her veto message.
That infuriated the bill’s sponsor Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia). He said no one in the law enforcement community approached him as he worked on the idea for nearly two years. “Why is it okay to lie to… this body and tell us that ‘we don’t have a problem,’ and then wait until the end and tell the governor ‘Here’s our problem with the bill’?” he asked from the House floor, “Where were you for the past two years?”
When South Carolina Radio Network later asked him to clarify, Rutherford explicitly named Keel and several others as “lying” to him.
Keel said he met with Rutherford shortly before the House sent the bill to the governor’s desk two weeks ago. Rutherford argued that was much too late in the process, as the bill passed the House only minutes before a critical procedural deadline.
Keel, with the help of Rep. Eddie Tallon (R-Spartanburg), personally lobbied House members to sustain the veto Tuesday. Tallon was one of the few legislators who originally opposed the bill. The pair was successful, as lawmakers sided with the governor 62-49 to kill the legislation.
Rutherford said the law was meant to ease the process for offenders who had turned their life around and were having trouble landing a job. He said employers are nervous about hiring those with any criminal record, even if it was years in the past.
Keel said he was sensitive to those cases, but believed the proposed law was too generous. “Are there people out there that need help? I believe there are,” he said, “But… this list of crimes is just way overly broad in my opinion.”
Rutherford said the state Board of Paroles and Pardons is careful in how it grants pardons and that victims and solicitors would have veto rights of any expungement.
“Tell me what Christian ethic it is not to forgive,” Rutherford said, “The typical pardon is not given out until after five years… of them not being able to get a job and them not being able to move on with their life.”
Haley said she would work with Rutherford next year to find a way to help those with criminal records who were struggling to land jobs.