The S.C. Senate is the next stop for a controversial pair of bills approved Tuesday in the House that would significantly alter the way the troubled Fairfield County school board operates.
House members overrode two vetoes enroute to passing legislation that strips the school board of its financial authority and remakes the seven-member board into a nine-member body some lawmakers say will improve efficiency.
"It's a good day for the people of Fairfield County," said Rep. Boyd Brown, the freshman Democrat who sponsored the two bills. "People know Fairfield County schools are broken."
Brown, along with freshman Sen. Creighton Coleman, also a Democrat, have named a new five-member board to take over the school district's finances, and also added two members to the board.
If the legislation stands, it will create a new majority on the elected school board, and wrest control of the district's $49 million annual budget from the board, in favor of the appointed panel.
"We believe this represented an assault on local government," said Debbie Elmore, spokeswoman for The S.C. School Boards Association. "We're very disappointed."
The heated scrap for control of the majority-black school district spilled onto the House floor Tuesday afternoon, as Brown rounded up Republican votes to put down Gov. Mark Sanford's vetoes, and jostled in the final vote against black Democrats who said the legislation nullified voters' decisions at the polls.
The state NAACP has said it is considering a lawsuit if the legislation ultimately becomes law, contending the measures violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The legislation also may come under U.S. Justice Department review.
Large numbers of House members did not vote either way on the two bills, deemed as "local legislation" in the General Assembly because it deals with matters thought to be specific to the areas represented by Brown and Coleman.
It took two votes to pass the bill stripping the school board of its financial responsibility, as the House at first sustained Sanford's veto 39-25.
Sanford said he vetoed the two bills because they infringed on home rule, which leans in favor of decisions made more at the local level.
Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, pushed against the legislation on the grounds it violated decisions made by voters in a legal election, and he came away from the vote unhappy.
"Mister Brown, a Democrat, recruited the support of Republicans to pass this because he could not recruit a Democrat," Howard said. "What does that say? It says he does not respect the people he represents."
Howard said with Tuesday's developments he has taken up issues on behalf of residents in the majority-black county and school district for the last time.
"It's up to the people of Fairfield County now," he said. "If they send (Brown) back (for a second term), they get what they deserve."
BILL TO APPOINT S.C.'S SCHOOL'S CHIEF DIES
A House bill died Tuesday that would have let voters decide whether to continue electing a state superintendent of education every four years or to empower the governor to appoint someone to the post. Currently, the superintendent post is the only statewide post Democrats hold. Democrats and several Republicans argued on the House floor the bill is an effort to erode South Carolinian's say in state government.
Meanwhile, other Republicans and Gov. Mark Sanford say it's a necessary restructuring reform to the state's antiquated system of state government. Last week, the House approved a similar bill to let voters decide whether to appoint or to continue electing the secretary of state.
- Gina Smith
LLOYD: SLED BUDGET HELPED BY STIMULUS
SLED director Reggie Lloyd said though his agency could see a $2.6 million budget cut, the House decision to allocate $2.4 million in stimulus money to the agency means SLED operations will not be impacted as much as other state agencies.
"Right now, we're really grateful, quite honestly, for the emphasis they put on public safety initiatives," Lloyd said.
"I can't say enough about the dialogue we've had . . . and just the need to push down those numbers on violent crime."
The House Ways and Means Committee approved a draft $5.1 billion state budget last week, one that many agencies say will likely result in hundreds of layoffs and cuts to programs.
But Lloyd said the stimulus money, combined with fuel conservation, a hiring freeze, administrative changes and other efficiencies will "buy another year" for the law enforcement agency to maintain its level of service.
- John O'Connor
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Outside the Blatt Building and outside of Richland County, the majority of people are in favor this."
- Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, making a case Tuesday that a bill that would strip the Fairfield school district of its financial authority has wide support in his county. Lawmakers overturned a gubernatorial veto of the bill. Gov. Mark Sanford argued the bill violates laws against the General Assembly usurping the authority of local government.
When and where S.C. lawmakers will eat and drink for free this week - and who's buying:
8-10 a.m. - Breakfast, Blatt Building, Room 112, S.C. Aviation Association
Noon -2 p.m. - Lunch, Blatt Building, Room 112, S.C. Public Defender Association
6-8 p.m. - Reception, Clarion Townhouse Hotel, American Legislative Exchange Council
7 p.m. - Dinner, Marriott Hotel, S.C. Governor's School for Science and Mathematics Foundation
8-10 a.m. - Breakfast, Blatt Building, Room 112, Behavioral Health Services Association