Local bills wrong way to conduct state business

Lawmakers have an unfortunate habit of coming up with peculiarly worded legislation when favored constituents, stymied by state laws and regulations, don't get what they want.

They do this despite the constitutional mandate that they only pass laws that apply statewide. To get around that, they write bills that don't name names but help a specific target.

A recent example is a bill that is advancing in the House of Representatives. The bill would allow dredging of "recreational use canals conveyed before 1970 to the state for that purpose."

The beneficiaries are property owners along canals that cut through environmentally sensitive salt marshes in North Myrtle Beach's Cherry Grove section. Not surprisingly, canals cut through marshes tend to fill in, and now these canals are being described as "mud holes."

The dredging work would have to be permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the bills states, but "all other department administered certifications for such dredging are deemed waived."

State regulators have not approved dredging the canals, prompting this bill from Horry County legislators.

Environmentalists are concerned about the long-term impacts of the dredging, but more importantly, bills like this one are not the way to create environmental law. Sidestepping agencies with a critical oversight role for a particular project is wrong. It is a short-sighted piecemeal approach that lawmakers should avoid.

This bill is reminiscent of one introduced in 2003 to aid dredging in Sea Pines' waterways by removing state oversight from dredging projects. The wording exempted from state regulation the disposal of spoil in critical areas that is the result of maintenance dredging in marinas, harbors and navigable waterways in master-planned communities whose restrictive covenants were filed before Jan. 1, 1966, and whose initial construction was before 1972, when the federal Clean Water Act went into effect.

That definition applied only to Sea Pines marinas, and it came after state and federal regulators objected to the South Island Dredging Association's request to dump dredge spoil in Calibogue Sound. The bill died after the association was cited by state and federal officials and charged with disposing the muck in the sound instead of at an approved offshore dump site.

Gov. Nikki Haley says she wants the practice of passing local legislation to stop, and her first veto victory came when the House sustained her refusal to sign a bill affecting water and sewer districts in Aiken County.

In her veto message, Haley put lawmakers on notice about her intention to veto special legislation.

Conservation groups opposed to the canal dredging bill rightly point out that the issue is one for a statewide committee created to look at ways to improve coastal laws.

Lawmakers should let the committee -- and state regulators -- do their jobs, and they should stop trying to pass unconstitutional bills.