Don't compound Sanford problems with bad laws

ONE OF THE challenges legislators face in the upcoming session is to navigate the thin line between correcting problems that our wandering, high-flying, philandering governor has brought to light and taking knee-jerk actions that will create new problems.

If they learn from experience, for example, lawmakers will clean up ambiguities in the ethics laws - which have been exploited by many people besides Mr. Sanford - and even pull back on ethics provisions that place unreasonable restrictions on the chief executive.

Unfortunately, early indications are that lawmakers will be more focused on addressing problems unique to Mark Sanford. That's not a terrible problem if the laws do no harm; we have plenty of laws that are never used and serve no purpose. The problem arises when lawmakers use the Sanford affair as a cover for completely unrelated, bad ideas they've been hawking for years or, worse, when there's simply no way of writing the unnecessary laws without creating problems.

Topping the list of Sanford-as-cover laws is the proposal to require the governor and lieutenant governor to have 24-7 SLED protection. A reasonable argument can be made for mandatory gubernatorial protection, although that wouldn't be an issue if we didn't elect someone like Mark Sanford. But providing security protection for the part-time lieutenant governor, as the current lieutenant governor has been lobbying for, is absurd. The only reason we even have a lieutenant governor is so there will be a warm body to take over if something happens to the governor; if that happened, then the lieutenant-governor-turned-governor would be entitled to security. Until then, it's a needless expense.

Topping the list of knee-jerk problem-creators is a bill to define the circumstances under which the lieutenant governor assumes the duties of the governor in an emergency. (The constitution authorizes this but gives no details or definitions.)

In theory, this makes sense. The problem comes with translating a fine idea into law. Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell has attempted to do that with a 12-hour trigger: If an emergency arises and the governor cannot be reached for 12 hours, then the lieutenant governor assumes gubernatorial power.

That sounds reasonable - until you think it through. Right now, if the governor needs to call out the National Guard in an emergency, and everybody knows and agrees that he will be unreachable for the foreseeable future, the lieutenant governor can act immediately. If this law passed, he would have to sit on his hands for 12 hours. And that's just the most obvious problem with trying to write a law to cover all the contingencies.

Worse, this proposal is far too sweeping in its definition of "emergency," including not just natural disasters but, among other things, "veto power" and the "authority to execute documents concerning extradition of fugitives from justice." Add to that the fact that once the lieutenant governor assumes emergency powers, he would assume all the powers of the governor, and you have a recipe for political power grabs, as we've seen in other states with such laws.

The prospect of a lieutenant governor and his allies conspiring to create a trumped-up "emergency" might not be so worrisome if the governor got to pick his running mate, as the president gets to do. And in fact legislation has been proposed to let the public vote next year on changing the constitution to allow that. That's one change that we've needed to make for some time, and that's where lawmakers ought to start if they want to change the relationship between the chief executive and his executive-in-waiting. And it wouldn't be a bad place to stop.