Haley's veto on library trespass bill could stand

Associated PressJuly 8, 2014 

— Gov. Nikki Haley's veto of a bill intended to help South Carolina's public libraries keep disrupters out may stand because of a timing issue.

The bill allows a misdemeanor trespassing charge against people who return to a library before their written warning to stay away expires.

York County Library Director Colleen Kaphengst (KOP-ingst) said Tuesday libraries need the legal backing to restrict an increasing number of patrons misbehaving in ways that aren't criminal but make others uncomfortable or occupy employees' time. She said that can include repeatedly shouting obscenities, pulling up pornography on computers, talking to other patrons' children or following people around — "things we can't really call law enforcement and have any kind of charge that can keep them out of the library."

Haley's veto said the measure gives library staff and unelected county library boards too much authority in keeping people out. She vetoed it "in the interest of preserving due process and maintaining the spirit of true public use for publicly-funded facilities," she wrote June 13.

But Sen. Wes Hayes, the bill's main sponsor, said the point is to give libraries a uniform way to deal with an escalating problem.

"They have difficulty getting people who are causing problems off the property because it's public," said Hayes, R-Rock Hill.

Haley recommended county councils pass local ordinances on what's considered acceptable conduct in public libraries, tailored to their issues. Kaphengst said the problem is that state law provides no authority to enforce local policies.

The Senate voted 39-3 to override the veto. But the vote occurred June 19, the last day of the extended legislative session, after the House already had gone home. The Senate had to take up the veto first, since it was Hayes' bill. However, an override requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

The House, which approved the bill 89-6 on June 3, could return for a special, one-day session to take up that veto and another on a local bill concerning a coastal fire district. It was unclear Tuesday whether that might happen. Hayes acknowledged it's unlikely.

Kaphengst said if the bill dies, library officials will renew the effort next year.

"We're seeing the frequencies and severity of incidents increasing, and that's a concern," she said.

As the bill made its way through the Legislature, advocates for the poor worried it might essentially criminalize homelessness and mental health issues, and allow staff to kick out people for extended lengths of time who aren't doing anything wrong.

Kaphengst believes the bill, as amended during the process, provides the checks and balances to prevent that: Staff can't tell someone to leave without consulting with the library director. A written warning must specify which library policy is being violated and how long the prohibition lasts. The person receiving it could appeal to the library board for a hearing. And a jury could decide on any trespassing charge resulting from the person returning before the warning allows.

Kaphengst noted schools, courts and colleges are public property too, but they have the legal authority to restrict access. She insists the bill is not aimed at the homeless.

"Our regular homeless patrons actually help us police the library," she said. "If they see others causing disruptions, they'll go and say, 'Hey, knock it off.'"

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service