Police officers in South Carolina no longer need a warrant to search people on probation and parole, following a second, successful attempt Wednesday in the House to override Republican Gov. Mark Sanford's veto.
A single-vote margin made the measure law,. It takes effect immediately.
One of the deciding votes came from Rep. Joe McEachern, a Richland County Democrat and former police officer.
McEachern voted against the Legislative Black Caucus, who, along with conservative and libertarian Republicans, opposed the measure.
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"I didn't intend to be the deciding vote on this, but I did intend to vote for it, because of my convictions," McEachern said. "Some think of this as giving power to the police. I look at it differently. I believe we are empowering our communities."
The law was lauded by about 50 officers in uniform from across the state who came to the State House to lobby House members.
"We can go back and make our communities safer," said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen.
Supporters called it a public safety measure that will help crack down on repeat offenders. Opponents said it erodes liberty and will lead to people being wrongly searched because they may look like someone on probation or parole.
The law extends to police officers and sheriff's deputies the authority of probation and parole agents - to bypass going to a judge for a warrant before searching someone on probation or parole on the street. The vehicle they're in, whether they own it or not, and any of their possessions, such as a purse, could also be searched. It does not extend the authority to search homes.
Inmates must agree to the searches before they're released on parole, or stay in prison their full term.
"We have a duty to the innocent citizens of this state to protect them," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, arguing people convicted of a crime lose their right to privacy.
The law requires an officer to have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before searching someone on probation. Before any warrantless search, officers must first verify the person is on probation or parole. Improper searches are subject to each agency's discipline policies - a penalty opponents called too vague.
They argued the law is too susceptible to abuse and racial profiling.
In his veto, Sanford said he saw no evidence the law would reduce recidivism. He said it swings the balance between safety and individual liberties too far in the wrong direction.
"The governor's said consistently, year after year, on these tough questions he will stand on the side of liberty," his spokesman, Ben Fox, said Wednesday, adding the governor's vetoes are often overridden overwhelmingly.
"He's encouraged the discussion is progressing to the point that one, single vote would have changed the outcome."
Rep. Joseph Jefferson, a former magistrate, said officers already have authority to keep criminals off the streets, and he predicted the law would lead to expensive lawsuits. He recalled the times his teenage son was pulled over while driving Jefferson's 1966 Chevrolet convertible.
"Every time he got in that car, he was pulled over," said Jefferson, D-Berkeley, who is black. "I sold my automobile because I was tired of him being victimized."
Rep. Mac Toole, R-Lexington, said he's not naive enough to doubt some people will abuse their power but said that's true in every profession.
"The vast majority do what's right and want to protect people," he said. "If they can stop one murder, one rape on an annual basis, then it's been worth it."
Statewide, there are about 16,000 officers and deputies, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association.
That compares with 342 probation and parole agents statewide supervising roughly 44,000 people, with several counties down to a single agent, said Peter O'Boyle, spokesman for the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. The agency estimates it needs 180 more agents.