Father, son legislators split on water measure

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina's only father-son legislative duo don't part ways often, but last week Reps. Roland Smith and his son Garry were forced to vote against each other.


"I had to protect the rights to the Savannah River," said Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, who leads the Aiken County delegation. He said he always expected his son, also a Republican, to represent the interests of his Greenville County district.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill to create a permitting process to protect the water supply and ensure that new and existing businesses would have reliable sources. The bill, S. 452, passed 87-11 and now returns to the Senate, which approved an earlier version.

The bill requires someone who takes 3 million gallons of water in a month from a river, creek, lake or other source to purchase a $1,000-$7,500 permit from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"This is good for people in Aiken County and the counties up north, and all the way down to Beaufort County," said Roland Smith, 77.

"We've been hearing a great deal of concern about Atlanta trying to transfer water," said the elder Smith, a legislator for two decades, who has three children.

The elder Smith warned that some day Atlanta might not be the only party interested in South Carolina's water and that the legislation puts a system in place to prepare for the future.

But for Garry Smith, the "well-intentioned" proposal comes with a catch: bigger government and higher expenses for water providers and consumers.

"I had real concerns about the bill because it creates a new program at DHEC and five new employees, and I think this is the wrong time to do this," said the younger Smith, 53, who has served in the House since 2003.

"We're having to make tough decisions about laying off employees of the state and cutting back on highway patrol officers and public safety officers," he said.

The debate over how or whether to regulate the state's water intensified last year. Some feared that a power struggle between DHEC and the Department of Natural Resources would destroy negotiations. Others, working against any regulations, hoped that would be the case.

Meanwhile, relations between the Smiths suffered no rift. After the vote, Roland Smith said he and his son went out to eat -- an egg sandwich on wheat toast for him and grits for Garry.

"And Daddy paid for it," Roland said with a smile.

Family ties

Reps. Roland and Garry Smith are only the third parent-child duo in the past 40 years to serve in the South Carolina House at the same time. The others were:

- Rep. Lucille Whipper (1986-97), mother of Rep. Seth Whipper (1995-current)

- Rep. T. Moffatt Burriss, father of Rep. John H. Burris (served together in 1987)

Source: South Carolina House research staff