Friday Follies: Selling Seashells by the Seashore, No More

Just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, South Carolina lawmakers want to make sure citizens know that it is not illegal to pick up sea shells by the seashore – unless of course, you intend to sell them without a license.

H.5110 would require a person who wants to sell “sea shells, shark or fish teeth, or drift wood” to obtain a license from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. The license would cost $25. But getting a license doesn’t mean you’re in the clear just yet. Each of the items collected would also have to be reported to the institute, which has the power to decide how specific, and how frequent, those reports must be made.

And that’s assuming your license gets approved. The institute could ostensibly deny a license for any reason, given that the criteria for approval is not provided in the law. But fear not, lawmakers have provided for an entire appeals process just for that situation. Appeals would be heard by the South Carolina Museum Commission, who must either uphold or reverse the lower body’s decision within 30 days. In other words, lawmakers have established a quasi-judicial system for adjudicating the sale of seashells. If that weren’t bad enough, this bill actually grows the museum commission by adding three new members, one of whom must be a “certified diver”.

What isn’t mentioned in the bill is equally alarming, if not more so. For starters, the Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology isn’t a traditional state agency. Rather it’s under the general control of the University of South Carolina (USC), meaning that lawmakers are indirectly putting a public university in charge of occupational licensing. Licensing requirements already provide enough grief for this state, but giving that power to an unaccountable entity within a college is simply ludicrous. Finally, where does this money go? Does it end up in the hands of USC, or one of its subdivisions? Lawmakers cannot seriously be proposing that a school – who will see its budget increase by a whopping $124 million next year – should be able to charge licensing fees to subsidize what is essentially a research department.

Then again, lawmakers have a history of proposing such laws, many of which are centered on occupational licensing. Hopefully this bill goes the way of their latest misstep, the saggy pants bill, which received so much public criticism that lawmakers dropped the idea entirely. But if not, we will keep a close eye on it.

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