South Carolina libraries will now have new methods to keep those they say are disruptive or a nuisance from entering the grounds.
State lawmakers last week overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for a person to return to a library after being told in writing to stay away by library employees.
The state House of Representatives narrowly overrode the governor’s veto in a 75-36 vote last week (72 votes were needed under the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement). The House came back for a special one-day session, as they did not get the governor’s veto until after their regular session ended in June. Haley had opposed the measure, saying it could violate due process rights.
“(I)t 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,” the governor’s veto message stated. She instead encouraged county governments to pass individual laws on the local level.
But York County Library executive director Colleen Kaphengst said the law is only targeted at a small group of people who harass staff or patrons. “More and more, staff are having to deal with behaviors that disrupt libraries, disrupt others from using libraries, and take up a lot of staff time,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.
Kaphengst said the law targets those who misbehave in a way that isn’t technically against the law, such as sexually harassing employees, pulling up pornography on computers, or stalking employees around the building. She said businesses are able to remove troublesome customers and issue trespassing notices, but public libraries often lack that power.
“Schools can issue ‘no trespass’ (notices), and they’re publicly-funded, publicly-supported institutions. Courts can issue ‘no trespass,'” she said. “In both cases, it’s allowed because it’s a matter of safety and security. But yet libraries did not have the same protections under the law.
The law requires any warnings to stay away must be given to the person in writing, in the presence of a law enforcement officer, and must state what specific part of the library’s code of conduct the individual violated. The amount of time a person could be suspended would depend on the particular library’s policies. Any warning could be appealed to the library’s board of trustees.
The libertarian thinktank South Carolina Policy Council came out against the measure, saying it could be abused in cities like Columbia that have a large percentage of homeless library users.
“(S)ending or designating police officers to act as witnesses to warnings by library staff hardly seems an appropriate use of law enforcement resources,” the group wrote.