COLUMBIA, S.C. — In January, Derrick Roper and Calvin Witherspoon died at the Columbia Housing Authority Allen Benedict Court property due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
A day later, the entire property was evacuated.
Since then, WLTX has reported on maintenance issues at the property and other residents' concerns.
On Wednesday, Richland County Democratic Senator Darrell Jackson's bill, which would allow cities to remove housing authority boards in emergencies, was in front of a S.C. Senate subcommittee for the first time.
Senator Jackson's bill would allow counties' statehouse delegations to declare emergencies at local housing authorities. An emergency would be declared if hazardous living conditions were systemic or led to deaths.
Under the bill, local mayors, or a mayoral appointee, would take over and would suspend authority commissioners for 90 days during an independent investigation.
The bill was in front of a subcommittee led by Senator Shane Massey (R-Edgefield).
“It sounds like at the very least, there needs to be an additional method to remove them. If there are still people over there who are still on the job, there needs to be some mechanism to remove them, because they should not be there,” Senator Massey said during the subcommittee meeting.
Senator Jackson said his bill is only for specific situations, like the deaths of Roper and Witherspoon at Allen Benedict Court in January.
“My bill is not for just every day check and balance, if the city feels we don't like some of their policies. It is an extreme emergency as is happened here, then it would kick in,” Jackson said.
Testimony, on behalf of the city of Columbia, raised concerns about the city's insurance and financial liability if the mayor was required to take over for 90 days.
Senators and testimony from the subcommittee also were concerned about violating HUD policy or federal law.
But, Jackson said they’d make revisions.
“I am willing to make whatever changes are necessary to make the bill palatable to the city and so that it can pass. I knew we would have to carry it over, this is the first step in the process,” Jackson said after the meeting.
A Senator on the subcommittee agreed that changes need to be made.
“There are ways that we can create laws that protect the health and safety of our citizens on one hand, but don't run afoul of other laws on the other. The intent would be to gather that information from HUD, from the state housing authority, put it all together and then come up with a bill that addresses the concerns that are raised by Senator Jackson,” said Senator Ronnie Sabb (D-Williamsburg).
The bill will be considered at a future subcommittee meeting after changes are made.
Since the two deaths in January, Columbia City Council has named four new Columbia Housing Authority commissioners.