REP. BRUCE Bannister calls his plan to make local officials certify that they don’t run sanctuary cities a “step to make sure everyone is following the law in South Carolina.”
“There’s always a question of how do you hold people accountable, how do you make sure people are following the law, and what this legislation is intended to do is to make sure there’s a financial penalty for anybody who is not following the law,” Mr. Bannister said on Monday, surrounded by Gov. Henry McMaster and a half-dozen legislative supporters.
What a fabulous idea. Seriously. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been frustrated by the failure of state and local officials to comply with state law.
State law also requires city and county councils to hold their meetings in public, with a few specific exceptions. Yet they constantly violate the law. So instead of waiting for news organizations to spend their own money to file lawsuits, why not use Mr. Bannister’s sanctuary city solution: Require SLED to work with the Homeland Security Department to “come up with a consistent way to make sure people are complying with the law.” And any cities that can’t prove they’re complying would lose their state funding for three years.
Of course, that penalty would pack more punch if the Legislature were somehow forced to follow the law that requires it to provide cities and counties 50 percent more money than it does. But let’s not quibble, because there are other laws that we need to make non-legislators stop violating.
If we had a law to take away DHEC’s funding if it doesn’t certify that it is enforcing our state’s environmental laws, either Carolina Water long ago would have stopped dumping untreated sewage into the lower Saluda River or DHEC would have gone out of business for failing to enforce its order that the company hook into a regional sewer system. Lacking that law, we had to wait 18 years, until this spring, for a federal judge to order the company to stop dumping into the Saluda.
The floods of October 2016 wouldn’t have done nearly as much damage if DHEC had been required to prove that it was enforcing the state’s dam safety law. Instead, dams breached after owners failed to make repairs the agency had ordered. Of course, we could also make dams safer by simply requiring the owners to certify — through a process that’s much less demanding than anything SLED and Homeland Security would design — that they’re doing visual inspections on their own dams every year. But legislators have refused for two years to pass that law, demonstrating that, at least in this case, they have no interest in making sure that “everyone is following the law in South Carolina.”
It’s illegal to text while driving in South Carolina, but if you look at the road while you’re driving — rather than focusing on your phone — you know there’s no way this is being enforced. So let’s strip cities and counties of their state funding if they can’t prove that their officers are enforcing that law.
And what about all those drunk drivers who get charged with slap-on-the-wrist crimes instead of DUI because the arresting officer doesn’t have a working camera to record every second of his interactions with the drunks? Let’s require police to certify that they’re enforcing the DUI law. Oh. Right. The problem isn’t that police won’t enforce the law. It’s that the Legislature won’t get rid of all those loopholes that make it impossible to enforce the law in far too many cases. So that goes into a different category.
My point is not that sanctuary cities are good. To the contrary, to refuse to enforce federal immigration laws, as such cities do, is to commit the worst political sin: It is to violate the rule of law. Whether they support a law or not, government officials are obligated to obey it — or else resign.
And our state absolutely has a right to set requirements that cities and counties — and colleges and universities, and state agencies — must meet in order to receive state funds. And Gov. McMaster is right when he says we need to stop reacting to problems — he said he knows of no sanctuary cities in South Carolina — and instead act to prevent them.
But we also need to count the cost of passing laws to head off problems that we don’t have — particularly when there’s no reason to believe we will have them.
How much money it would cost cities and counties to prove they enforce immigration laws would depend on precisely what mechanisms SLED came up with. But proposals like this cost more than money. The biggest cost is making people believe we have problems we don’t have.
This reminds me of a bill offered a few years ago to prohibit our courts from using Sharia law. There was nothing to suggest that any judge had even considered such a thing, and every reason to believe none would, since judges have to come back before the Legislature every four years to get re-elected. But by putting that proposal out there, the sponsors made people believe that S.C. judges were imposing Sharia law in our courts — and that the sponsors were fighting the Sharia-loving Legislature to stop the judges.
Maybe the only goal of the sanctuary cities bill is to make supporters look like they’re being Trump-tough on illegal immigrants. But when people see headlines that say the governor is demanding that cities and counties prove they aren’t sanctuary cities and don’t bother to read the details — and that’s, what, 90 percent of the public (although obviously not you, dear readers) — they naturally assume that our state is overrun by sanctuary cities. And that false narrative undercuts trust in government.
There’s nothing wrong with adding a penalty to the state immigration law to strip funding from cities and counties that don’t obey immigration laws.
But if we’re going to make cities, counties or state agencies prove they are obeying state law, why would we start with the laws we know they’re obeying?
Why wouldn’t we start, instead, with the laws we know they are violating?
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at email@example.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.