Opinion: McMaster is tired of lawmakers rewriting history, and so are we


Gov. Henry McMaster doesn't veto a lot of bills. Aside from those single-county bills that violate the state constitution he swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend, you can count each year's vetoes on a single hand.

So all of his statewide vetoes are notable and often instructive.

This year, he has vetoed three such bills, and all three vetoes boil down to the same problem: erasing history.

Mr. McMaster believes, as do we, that it's fine under a lot of circumstances to pardon criminals. What's not OK is the corollary in those bills handing out pardons: expunging the pardoned criminals' records, which perpetuates the fiction that the crimes never occurred.

As he explained in vetoing a bill to erase the records of people who sell alcohol to minors, "second chances should be freely given when individuals have made mistakes and paid their debts to society; however, criminal history, like all history, should not be erased. Rather, compassion should be informed by fact and should not be forced upon unwitting prospective employers and other interested parties."

The expungement provisions of H.4248 are particularly troubling at a moment when the bar industry is lobbying lawmakers to reduce the civil liability it faces because too many bars keep selling alcohol to already inebriated customers, who go out and kill people.

The last thing we need is to make it more difficult for bars to recognize - and if it comes down to it, for jurors to recognize - that the waiter or waitress or bartender they hire has already been convicted of serving underage customers. To the contrary, we ought to be requiring bars to check the criminal backgrounds of their employees to make sure there isn't a pattern of illegally serving minors or continuing to serve adults who are already drunk. We also ought to be requiring bartenders and wait staff to complete state server training. (The bill requires people to attend a state-approved "merchant alcohol enforcement education program" in order to receive the expungement, but that's already required under current law.)

Mr. McMaster also vetoed S.112, which allows expungements for people who passed fraudulent checks, and H.1166, which requires prosecutors to drop charges against people awaiting trial for carrying a gun without a permit, which the Legislature legalized in March. As the S.C. Daily Gazette reports, the March law allowed expungements for people who had already been convicted of that crime but not those awaiting trial.

The governor chose to sign the bill anyway because it included changes to make it easier to prosecute convicted criminals for gun possession. We wish he had vetoed that bill - whose main purpose was to allow people without criminal records to carry guns without training or background checks - but his failure to do so doesn't mean he should have let the follow-up go. As he noted, those awaiting trial deliberately chose to violate what was state law at the time.

This isn't the first time Mr. McMaster has rejected bills that would extend the too-long list of crimes for which expungement is authorized. Unfortunately, the Legislature has consistently overridden the vetoes - most notably at the urging of business leaders who apparently were afraid of getting pushback for hiring people who have committed crimes and served their time, and instead asked the state to blind them and the public to their employees' pasts.

As he did after that earlier veto, Mr. McMaster offered last month to work with the Legislature "to pass laws to improve employment opportunities for individuals who have paid their debt to society without simultaneously preventing employers from considering a person's complete criminal history when making critical hiring decisions."

Unfortunately, the Legislature likely will once again ignore Mr. McMaster's request, ignore what should be the public's right to know who has been convicted of crimes and override all three of his vetoes. But it shouldn't.

This editorial was originally published by The Post and Courier on Wednesday, June 5.