Haley and Home Rule win with successful veto

Gov. Nikki Haley scored a significant victory Tuesday when the House upheld her first veto.

The legislation was aimed at water and sewer districts in Aiken County, and Haley rightly vetoed the bill because it was unconstitutional. Under Home Rule, lawmakers are supposed to only pass laws that affect the entire state, not one particular jurisdiction.

Significantly, the veto was sustained by a 112-0 vote. Rep. Shannon Erickson of Beaufort voted to sustain the veto. Reps. Bill Herbkersman and Andy Patrick were not recorded as having voted.

Usually, only local legislators vote on bills that affect just their area. In the Senate, only the three senators representing all or parts of Aiken County voted to send the bill to the governor's desk. The House Journal doesn't indicate any roll call votes on the measure.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford also vetoed legislation for the same reason, but he didn't convince lawmakers to see the error of their ways. The House overwhelmingly sustaining Haley's veto speaks well of her nascent relationship with lawmakers.

The bill that Haley vetoed would have prohibited a particular person in Aiken County from serving on the commission of a water and sewer district that she worked for.

Unfortunately, our state ethics law doesn't prevent something like this from happening. It only requires that such officeholders abstain from voting on issues that affect their economic interests, Haley's veto message notes.

The governor points out that this could be corrected by a general law that applies statewide, a move that would not violate the constitution.

Haley must have been very persuasive because the bill's sponsor led the floor effort to uphold her veto, according to a statement about the vote.

In her veto message, Haley put lawmakers on notice about special legislation and her intention to veto such measures. She also owns up to having followed House custom when she was a member by not voting on local legislation that didn't affect her district.

"I believe my former colleagues will agree that, as legislators, we simply follow the 'traditions' of the General Assembly, and yet in doing so, we fail to understand that these traditions are clear violations of our constitution," Haley wrote.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that legislation specifically drawn to apply to one area is unconstitutional. In fact, even when lawmakers have tried to turn over authority to local governments they've run afoul of Home Rule. In 2007, the court ruled that special legislation to correct Home Rule issues was still unconstitutional.

The justices said the opportunity to correct special legislation on the books was a short window right after Home Rule was instituted in 1975. Legislation three decades after the fact can't be considered "remedial" or "transitional."

Lawmakers could fix these problems with statewide legislation, but that will require political gumption we haven't seen so far.

Perhaps Haley's vetoes will inspire them.