South Carolina’s legislature has been in favor of “States’ Rights” for well over 150 years. In the past States’ Rights advocates demanded that the federal government not interfere first with slavery, then later with racial segregation. Advocates argue now about less racially charged issues, but issues that still involve perceived centralized government overreach. An extension of that argument to counties and municipalities such as Edgefield, Johnston, and Trenton is called “Home Rule.” The driving force behind Home Rule is the same as that behind States’ Rights: we know more about our needs and our priorities than they do, whether in Washington or in Columbia.
Here’s a difference. Our state legislators argue that the states existed first and formed the United States; the only powers the federal government ought to have are those given it by the states. But regarding Home Rule, those same legislators argue again that the states (or colonies) existed first, before counties and municipalities, so the now-inverted argument says the only powers that counties and municipalities have, or ought to have, are those delegated to them by the state government. Do you, dear reader, agree with that principle, that we in Edgefield County should only be able to mandate protections for our environment, our homes and businesses, and our citizens at the bare minimum levels set by Columbia and no better, whether we like it or not?
I’ll try not to get too wonky, but the latest manifestation is Senate Bill S. 218, a bill Sen. Shane Massey is co-sponsoring. Shane describes it as “prohibiting local governments from requiring private businesses to provide specific benefits to employees–health insurance, time off from work, etc.” What does that mean? It means that if we want to require a business locating in Johnston to provide health insurance to local residents at a more generous level than Columbia wants, we can’t. If we want to say to Nordstrom’s (I’m dreaming here) that to get a license to open a location in Edgefield, then you have to guarantee to workers that their schedule will not be changed in a way that would suddenly pull them out of a course they’re taking at Piedmont Tech, we can’t. If Charleston wants to set a minimum wage requirement for cab drivers higher than in Greenville, they can’t. When asked, Sen. Massey stated that this will make sure we are more “business friendly”: businesses operating across the state won’t have to cope with different (and more generous) rules pertaining to their workers in one location in the state than in another. The minimum standards effectively become the maximum standards, statewide.
Home Rule should mean that once Columbia sets minimum standards for “specific benefits to employees–health insurance, time off from work, etc.” it is up to Charleston, and to Greenville, and to Edgefield County, to decide whether those minimum levels are fair or sufficient within their own jurisdiction. To say that workers must not be treated better here than the minimum treatment statewide may be friendly to business, but it is decidedly not friendly to workers – to most of us, that is. Should business or employee interests prevail in Edgefield County? Shouldn’t we be able to decide that answer right here, on a case-by-case basis, for ourselves?