SC House overrides Gov. Haley’s $40 million farm-aid veto

The S.C. House voted Tuesday to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of $40 million in state aid to farmers whose crops were damaged in October’s historic rainfall and flooding.

After several speeches from the House podium pledging to help farmers – many looking on from the House balcony – representatives voted 112-2 to override the governor’s veto, prompting applause from the floor.

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said Haley “intentionally ignored our farmers’ plea for help by leaving them out” of a request that she made for federal aid for S.C. homeowners.

“Because of the governor’s refusal to advocate on behalf of our state’s largest industry, the General Assembly was forced to take action,” Lucas said.

Some House members, who said they are farmers, abstained from voting.

To send the aid to farmers, two-thirds of the S.C. Senate also must vote to overturn Haley’s veto. Senators approved the aid by a veto-proof, 33-3 margin.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he is confident the Senate will override Haley’s veto with overwhelming support on Wednesday. “This is something that farmers have got to have.”

Haley vetoed the aid package Monday. In her veto message, the Republican governor called the money an “unprecedented bailout” for a “vocal industry,” adding the same aid was not available to small businesses and homeowners who also suffered losses in the flood.

But lawmakers supporting the farm aid said the state already sends millions to businesses in the form of tax benefits.

“South Carolina farmers need our help,” said state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, speaking before the vote.

“Did you realize that we put $40 million in beach re-nourishment in the budget that passed this House?” he asked other members, noting beaches are important to state’s tourism sector.

State Rep. Justin Bamberg said farming is key to his Bamberg community – the same community, he noted, where Haley grew up.

“When she vetoed the farm-aid bill … she looked at each and every farmer … looked them in the eyes and told those farmers to go back and walk through their struggling crops and kick rocks,” said the Democrat. “While we are on watch, our farmers will not kick rocks.”

If the Senate votes to override Haley’s veto, farmers will be able to apply for grants from the state. To qualify, a farmer must have lost at least 40 percent of a crop. The grants will cover 20 percent of that loss, not to exceed $100,000.

Speaker Lucas also challenged Haley’s veto justification, calling it “factually incorrect.” Haley argued farmers already have access to enough taxpayer-funded federal aid.

But the speaker’s office said farmers do not have access to federal disaster-relief programs available to small businesses or homeowners. Federal programs for farmers are inadequate in dealing with disasters like October’s flood, Lucas’ office said.

By Jamie Self, staff reporter with The State