COLUMBIA — An effort to organize a network of horseback riding trails across Aiken County notched a key legislative win this month. A bill to protect property owners from legal liability if a rider falls down while on their land was signed into law on Monday. Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, had introduced the legislation, H. 4475, last fall.
“It’s just one of several building blocks, but it was certainly an important one,” said Ed Scanlon, the manager of equine development for the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, on Friday.
“We have not yet actually gone out looking for easements across people’s property yet. We didn’t want to do that until we had a law to protect them from liability.”
The plan is to create an integrated trail system of 600 miles across Aiken County by linking public and utility rights of way and private property, provided the property owners agree to let horseback riders ride across their land. Young’s legislation is expected to ease landowners’ fears of lawsuits.
More than 1,300 jobs were tied to the Aiken County equestrian industry, according to a 2008 study by the University of South Carolina Aiken. And community leaders hope to increase that number along with the commerce and income the horse business pumps into the local economy.
The equine liability law is just one of the local interests Aiken and Edgefield legislators have promoted since last year.
South Carolina lawmakers are about half-way through the second year of the 2-year General Assembly, which is scheduled to end in early June. The S.C. Senate will return from a one-week furlough Tuesday and resume their work on the state budget. The House will return from its two-week furlough the following Tuesday.
Before leaving last month, Aiken-area legislators signed onto H. 5048, a bill introduced by Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, aimed at marketing the county better.
The proposal requires the S.C. Department of Transportation to include “Aiken” on all existing and future signs that direct traffic to Augusta along the eastbound and westbound lanes of traffic at Exit 107 on Interstate Highway 26, and along the northbound and southbound lanes of traffic at Exit 16 on Interstate Highway 77.
Taylor’s bill specifies that no taxpayer dollars should be spent, though.
It says the state “is missing a marketing opportunity to highlight Aiken County as the key metropolitan area in the western portion of our state by failing to include ‘Aiken’ on interstate signage around the Columbia Metropolitan Area.”
What’s more the legislation notes that signs “trumpet Augusta, Ga. as the westbound interstate designation, but fail to note Aiken as a tourist or business destination.”
Meanwhile a push by Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, to help local constituents, including Edgefield cake baker Sheryl Brousseau, is expected to become law this year. His bill, S. 1035, is intended to let people sell certain home-baked goods for profit, without investing in a costly commercial kitchen and submitting to restaurant regulations. House lawmakers introduced their own version of Massey’s “cottage food” proposal H. 4689, which has passed the House and is close to clearing the Senate.
Local lawmakers are also backing an effort that could bump up a ballot referendum to allow Sunday alcohol sales in North Augusta.
Another local concern was answered last year, when Massey found out that the Edgefield County School Board wanted to reduce its own compensation in order to adjust to budgetary constraints.
“Interestingly enough, and I didn’t know this and I don’t think they knew it, but their pay was set by state law,” said Massey in an interview this week. “So what I did was change it so they could reduce their pay.”
The Republican lawmaker introduced S. 721 in March of last year, which was signed into law less than a month later.
A school district attorney said the board chairman and secretary had received $325 per month, while other members’ pay was set at $300. They cut their compensation significantly, he said, but the exact figure was not immediately available on Friday.
Area lawmakers also pushed for reforms aimed at state government accountability.
Massey’s bill, S. 335, would require a senator who seeks a budget earmark for specific county, municipality, or non-profit, to have the details published on the Senate’s Web site. The proposal was introduced last year and has not budged.
“I think it’s a very simple thing,” said Massey. “If someone across the state asks for an earmark for a certain project, that should be disclosed.”
Another proposal with statewide implications on transparency was introduced Taylor. His bill, H. 3235, would strengthen the state open records law, in part, by setting deadlines for public bodies fulfilling a request.