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Statement Regarding Local Government Emergency Powers from the Town of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

In the past week, the Governor, the Attorney General and the Sheriff of Beaufort County have issued statements regarding local ordinances adopted in response to COVID-19 emergency, including ordinances imposing stay in place requirements or those banning the short term rental of property. The Town and our fellow communities of Bluffton, Beaufort and Port Royal, have adopted Resolutions urging the Governor to use his emergency powers to order a statewide shelter in place.

What the Governor and Attorney General have said is extraordinary emergency powers are granted to the Governor, and the Governor alone. Regarding local governments, the Governor and Attorney General have said this:

Local governments do not have extraordinary emergency powers, and local governments cannot exercise the emergency powers granted to the Governor by the General Assembly.

The advent of an emergency does not suspend the United States and South Carolina Constitutions. As the Attorney General said when describing the Governor's extraordinary powers:

all of these powers are subject to applicable constitutional limitations.

During a State of Emergency, each of the 46 Sheriffs in South Carolina, including our own Sheriff, are bound to follow the Orders of the Governor.

Aside from the liability that arises when any government takes actions that are not legal, any government, including the Town, has an ongoing obligation to all persons to act as is required by the Constitution. Non-resident property owners who use their property for a second home or for income have the same rights as a resident. This includes a right to be free from government regulation that impairs their contracts, which includes contracts for the short term rental of houses, condominiums and rooms on Hilton Head Island.

The law by which we are all governed is plain on these issues, and the Town has an obligation to follow the law.

Our first responders are committed to your safety and stand by to serve where needed. We will continue to share the very latest information with you, and pursue all opportunities the law allows to act to preserve the health safety and welfare of the Hilton Head Island community.


Attorney General Opinion - Emergency Powers pdf icon - 3/27/2020