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ISSUE: Governor's absence and state lawOUR VIEW: Senate leader on target in seeking legal clarityThe saga of Gov.

Mark Sanford's absence from Columbia took a decided turn Wednesday with the revelation that he did not go hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

He journeyed to Argentina, admitting the trip was tied to an extra-marital affair.The individual and family seriousness of the matter for Sanford is obvious.

Many South Carolinians will find the entire story unsettling, as well they should.The bombshell revelation about the affair, however, does diminish an aspect of the story that is quite puzzling as South Carolinians look to elected leaders to be responsible and ready in any situation.Sanford's staff only informed other leaders and media about the governor's absence when the story began to unfold days after his trek began.

It was then that they told of a hiking trip during which the governor would be out of touch, contending his get-aways after the legislative session are not unusual.It is not sufficient for Sanford or any governor to be absent and out of touch with his staff left to decide how to react in the event of an emergency should the chief executive be unreachable.Charleston Republican and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell wants to bring needed clarity to state law.According to the state constitution, "In the case of the removal of the Governor from office by impeachment, death, resignation, disqualification, disability, or removal from the State, the Lieutenant Governor shall be Governor.

In case the Governor be impeached, the Lieutenant Governor shall act in his stead and have his powers until judgment in the case shall have been pronounced.

In the case of the temporary disability of the Governor and in the event of the temporary absence of the Governor from the State, the Lieutenant Governor shall have full authority to act in an emergency."McConnell says the problem is the term "temporary absence" is not defined.

"There is no bright line measure of how to determine in an emergency whether the lieutenant governor is authorized to act in the governor's stead.

That is why I am proposing a bill that would provide a definition to the term 'temporary absence' so that we can ensure that the government continues to operate in a smooth and continuous manner and that we are also protected in case of an emergency."Other lawmakers should support McConnell's efforts in light of the Sanford saga.

Putting political pot shots aside, they should take a serious look at the situation and how state law was or was not followed, and how it should be altered.McConnell makes important points in proposing the assessment:* "While we can all sympathize with Mark Sanford's need for rest and relaxation, these are issues that are bigger than a single person and fundamentally affect how we operate as a state government should there be a crisis or an emergency that requires prompt action and response."* "While I am confident that the governor's staff was sincere in their view that they would consult with other leaders before making any decision in case of an emergency, I can take no solace in the fact that unelected staff would be making grave and important decisions in case of an emergency during the governor's temporary absence.

The people at the ballot box have voted to put their faith in those they elected to handle such emergencies.

Those elected have sworn an oath to do those jobs in accordance with the constitution and laws of this state.

In an emergency, it should be those people who consult with staff to make a decision and not the other way around."In the same vein, McConnell also plans to address the important issue of Sanford traveling without security."I believe that the office of governor is too important as a symbol for our state and too necessary during times of emergency to risk something happening to the person who serves as governor.

Being governor has its own inherent risks apart from the high profile position that he holds.

The governor must make decisions that could anger any number of people who could want to exact retribution," McConnell said.The Senate leader thus plans also to introduce legislation that would mandate security coverage for the governor and lieutenant governor in order to protect the order of succession in South Carolina and the state's ability to handle emergencies.

It, too, should be given serious consideration in this era when the country has learned painful lessons about terrorism.
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