COLUMBIA — Now that Georgia lawmakers have finished their half a bi-state boating compact, it’s up to South Carolina to follow suit.
The pending Georgia-South Carolina reciprocal agreement has at least two goals. One is to help law enforcement apprehend boating violators. The other is to prevent boaters from suffering a day-long or longer ordeal after being cited for a misdemeanor violation, such as missing life jackets or expired boat registration.
On March 26, the South Carolina Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Subcommittee approved South Carolina’s portion, H. 4561, and sent it to the full committee. The compact would be the first in the nation to create law enforcement reciprocity between states that share a body of water, allowing one state’s law enforcement to treat a violator from the neighboring state as a resident.
Currently, law enforcement and boaters have few options – either a nonresident violator produces bond on the spot, often after calling a friend for money or being escorted to an ATM, or the individual is taken into custody.
Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, the bill’s South Carolina sponsor, said law enforcement has traditionally gone to lengths to keep people out of jail for out-of-state boating infractions.
If passed, the compact would allow officials to issue a courtesy summons to a violator instead of forcing a violator to post bond up front.
“There’s going to be that group of people that don’t comply, that just don’t come back to take care of the problem, don’t send a fine back,” said Mike Sabaka, a captain with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources law enforcement.
State law enforcement has no power of extradition or practical way to compel violators to come back to court. As a result, magistrates issue bench warrants, which are sent to a dispatch center.
One of the results of the compact would be officials in one state notifying officials in the other state when a boater has paid a fine, thus lifting the boater’s suspension.
Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, wondered if there would be a lag between the steps in the bi-state process of apprehending someone, and pointed to the reciprocal agreement targeting motorists who break the law.
“Oftentimes there is a delay in the notification,” said Thurmond. “We’re talking years in which somebody gets a DUI in South Carolina and is convicted.”
Sabaka said the Interstate Wildlife Compact uses a combined database shared by its 43 members, and officials could add the boating violator component to it.