October 31, 2014

SC Libraries Seek To Override Trespass Bill Veto

South Carolina’s public library directors, confident they have the necessary votes in the state legislature locked up, plan to press ahead with efforts to see a library trespass bill adopted into law, even after a recent veto by Gov. Nikki Haley scuttled their hopes, at least temporarily.

The bill, which permits a misdemeanor trespassing charge against any library patron returning to the premises before a written warning to stay away expires, probably won’t be considered again until early 2015, but library officials, encouraged by how close they came to success this summer, told Library Journal they are eager to take up the cause again.

“That is planned. We feel this is a very important piece of legislation for public libraries in South Carolina,” Carl Coffin, president of the South Carolina Association of Public Library Administrators (SCAPLA), told LJ. “As far as the House and Senate are concerned, we have a broad range of support.”

Meeting last week in Columbia, SC, SCAPLA members agreed to continue lobbying for the trespass bill as a top legislative priority in 2015.

The problem patrons

Colleen Kaphengst, director of the five-branch York County library system and a leading proponent of the trespass bill, says the law would add legal muscle to existing regulations that bar patrons, with cause, for extended periods. People who violate previous written warnings to stay away from libraries would be subject to arrest. Punishments for guilty parties would include fines not to exceed $200 or imprisonment for not more than 30 days.

“What we’re trying to address is a relatively small number of patrons and incidents,” said Kaphengst. “It’s not an urban issue. It’s not a rural issue.… It’s a small number of people. It’s repeated behavior that’s repeated many times. It’s different ages. It varies. We can’t stereotype who is showing this behavior.”

Kaphengst, who runs the five-branch York County system near the North Carolina border close to the Charlotte, NC, metropolitan area, described some types of incidents that trouble library officials around the state and could potentially lead to written evictions.

These include the stalking of library personnel, incidents of adults approaching other people’s children, and patrons who become loudly irate or personally abusive when informed they are violating library policy.

Kaphengst denied allegations that the libraries are targeting homeless people, teenagers, or any other particular group. She said amendments to the library trespass bill successfully addressed concerns about due process that arose during the legislative process. “I don’t know how many more checks and balances there can be,” Kaphengst told LJ.

Why the veto?

Asked for a comment regarding the June veto, Gov. Haley’s office referred LJ to her veto message, which said, “While I understand the problems libraries face, I have serious misgivings about the scope of authority this bill gives to unelected county library boards.”

Haley, a Republican, urged county governments to adopt local library trespass ordinances as they saw fit. “Rather than a one-size-fits-all solution at the state level, each county government can and should tailor solutions to the particular problems faced by public libraries in their community.”

Kaphengst and State Sen. Robert W. “Wes” Hayes, who introduced the legislation, said attempts to pass separate local ordinances would fail to adequately address a statewide problem that requires a uniform code.

Of Haley’s veto, Kaphengst said, “It was very disappointing because we’ve been working on this for four years.” In 2010, she said, a similar trespass law was proposed by a Greenville, SC, legislator, but the bill went nowhere. This time, Kaphengst personally asked Hayes to sponsor the bill, and it was officially introduced in the Senate on Jan. 14, 2013. Nine other state senators attached their name to it.

In May, the legislation came out of committee with amendments designed to prevent library patrons from being unfairly singled out. There was little opposition from that point on. The Senate vote passed 41-1, and the House adopted the bill by an 89-6 margin.

Timing Delayed Override

Coffin and Kaphengst believe the law could have easily passed by now, even after Haley’s veto, were it not for some unfortunate timing. South Carolina’s House and Senate each approved the measure by wide margins. After Haley signed her veto on June 13, the Senate voted on June 19—the last day of an extended legislative session—to override the governor’s action 39-3, a far greater margin than the two-thirds majority required.

But there was no time left for House members to vote on an override before the summer adjournment. The House speaker could still call the body back into session for one, but everyone interviewed for this story agreed that is unlikely to happen.

“Unless the House comes back, the bill is dead until January,” State Sen. Hayes told LJ. The next legislative session does not begin until early in 2015.

Hayes, a Republican from Rock Hill, SC, which is part of York County, said he believes the House speaker is reluctant to incur the financial expense of a special one-day session.

However, with such broad support in both houses of the legislature, Coffin is confident of success next year. Even another veto by Gov. Haley probably wouldn’t derail the plan, the SCAPLA president noted, as there would be sufficient time to conduct override votes.

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