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House overrides bill allowing trespassing charge for a public library, sustains tax hike veto

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A bill intended to help South Carolina's public libraries keep out disrupters became law Wednesday despite Gov. Nikki Haley's opposition.

The House voted 75-36 to override Haley's veto. The law allows a misdemeanor trespassing charge against people who return to a library before their written warning to stay away expires.

Haley's veto of a bill allowing a tax hike to pay for firefighting in Murrells Inlet and Garden City stands. The bill's supporters failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote to override. Their two attempts failed by votes of 59-53 and 58-49.

Proponents argued the fire district that incorporates coastal portions of Georgetown and Horry counties needs more money to operate. If it doesn't get that money, they argued, the district's fire rating will drop, and home and business owners will pay much more for insurance than they would for the taxes.

The issue even split the area's representatives. Opponents included Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, who argued the issue should be put to voters in a referendum.

"This is a tax increase. They're not all wrong," Goldfinch said. "In this case, people need the opportunity to tell us whether they want a tax increase."

The House returned for a special, one-day session Wednesday to take up the two vetoes left over from June. Both were Senate bills, so that chamber had to take up the vetoes first. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to override both, but those votes occurred in the last days of an extended session, after the House had already gone home.

Haley spokesman Doug Mayer called the votes on the local fire district bill a win for the entire state.

"The House did the right thing today in agreeing with the governor that we should not be unilaterally raising taxes on our people," he said.

The library trespass bill was advocated by public librarians across the state. Haley's veto of that was overridden Wednesday without any discussion.

York County Library Director Colleen Kaphengst has said 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. Examples she gave included repeatedly shouting obscenities, pulling up pornography on computers, talking to other patrons' children or following people around.

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.

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.

But supporters believe 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.

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