The message from the state Supreme Court should be clear: Bills passed by the Legislature can't be loaded down with unrelated amendments -- commonly known as bobtails.
The court ruled June 23 that lawmakers who include pet projects in bills unrelated to the initial topic are violating the state Constitution. The bill in question, which was challenged by activist Edward Sloan Jr. in a lawsuit, was titled "Job Tax Credit" but included provisions for wine tastings and allowing gas station operators to blend ethanol into gasoline supplies.
Justices ruled that the unrelated provisions were disallowed but did not strike down the whole bill. Sloan's attorney, Jim Carpenter, thought the message to lawmakers would have been stronger if the court had struck the entire bill.
That's what it might take to get rid of bobtails. Sloan and Carpenter brought a similar case in 2004 against lawmakers, arguing legislation that began as a research and development bill ballooned to include 15 other subjects tacked onto it.
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The justices sided with Sloan in that case but threw out only portions of the bill, including a culinary arts program at Trident Technical College in Charleston, while keeping the original legislation intact.
Unfortunately, the actions by the court might have little practical effect on the way business is done in the Statehouse. Legislators might continue to flout the Constitution, adding bobtails to unrelated bills and thumbing their noses at the public. They are, in effect, daring critics to challenge them in court.
We're grateful that people such as Sloan and Carpenter are willing to do that.