CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A South Carolina Representative is introducing a bill that would not allow student loans to affect state government employees. This comes after Charleston County Chief Deputy Joyce Smith’s termination over her “willful default on student loans.”

State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis says he is introducing this bill after Smith’s termination with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) because of her student loans. Local community leaders say something needs to be done to protect employees’ jobs.

“Sheriff’s hold a lot of power, but I have never seen the sheriff abuse their power to terminate someone just like that,” says Kevin Hollinshead, a community organizer.

Joyce Smith’s termination from CCSO has community members like Hollinshead wanting answers. Documents show Smith’s performance review from December ranked “outstanding,” and that’s the highest that one could receive.

“This is truly a travesty, a system gone amuck. There’s no justification,” says Hollinshead.

As Hollinshead believes it is unfair that it is a state law and an office policy to pay student loans when working for a government agency, Rep. Pendarvis says he is doing something about it.

“Someone should not be barred from employment from a state agency simply because they have student loans and they may be in a situation to pay them,” says Pendarvis.

Rep. Pendarvis filed a bill to delete provisions that don’t allow student loans to affect state government employees’ jobs. He says seeing it affect Smith’s employment is unfair.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is what has enforced the sheriff’s hand in having to make that decision,” says Pendarvis.

Pendarvis says it is important for him to act now on introducing this bill to help people across the state who may be in the same situation, like Smith’s.

“It’s having a more detrimental impact on communities, people, and their livelihoods. We have an obligation to make sure we are taking care of people,” he says.

Pendarvis says he hopes this bill will be discussed and voted on at the statehouse by the end of this year’s legislative session.

We have reached out to CCSO for a statement regarding the performance review. They say the sheriff does not comment on a personnel matter.