Category Archives: Legislature

Ex-Rep. Nelson Hardwick just became an unperson

Wow, that was quick.

This was just reported:

Hardwick-NelsonState Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Horry, resigned Tuesday evening in the middle of his sixth term after an investigation by the House Speaker’s office.

Hardwick was accused to sexually harassing a female House staff member, accorrding to four lawmakers who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation….

Not knowing him, I went to look him up… and he had already been removed from the list of members on the legislative website.

Winston Smith moved quickly on this one. One day a lawmaker, the next day… you are an unperson.

Speaker Lucas had this to say:

“I received Representative Hardwick’s resignation letter and accepted his decision to step down from the South Carolina House of Representatives,” Speaker Lucas stated. “As Speaker, maintaining the integrity and public trust of this Body is my highest priority.  Any inappropriate activity related to the men, women, and staff that serve in the House Chamber has been and will continue to be investigated thoroughly and expeditiously.  Each of us have been entrusted with the opportunity to serve the public and that trust must never be called into question.”

The Senate, as is its wont, resists reforming DOT

While I think it’s great the Senate is trying to come up with even more money to fix our roads, I have to agree with Speaker Lucas on this one:

State senators passed their own version of a plan Tuesday to raise money to repair the state’s crumbling roads, setting up a crash with their counterparts in the S.C. House.

The collision came as the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-8 to replace a House road-repair plan with a Senate proposal. The Senate plan would raise more money for roads — roughly $800 million a year versus $427 million — but also increase the gas tax more — by 12 cents a gallon versus 10 cents….

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said he was “extremely disappointed” the Senate committee did not debate the various parts of the House bill, instead substituting its own proposal.

Lucas called the House’s 87-20 passage of its own roads plan two weeks ago a “courageous vote,” adding senators focused only on “dollar signs,” not the other reforms in the House plan.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, the York Republican who sponsored the House bill, said the resounding House vote — enough to withstand a promised Haley veto — was because that proposal also included reforming the State Infrastructure Bank and S.C. Department of Transportation.

“The Senate bill … has nothing for reform. It has nothing for right-sizing DOT,” Simrill said. “It is just a funding (proposal).”…

Funding the roads without fixing DOT is almost as bad as reforming DOT without funding the roads — as Cindi pointed out today.

We need to do both, and we’ve needed to do both for a long, long time. It’s time lawmakers move away from the past two decades of failing to do either.

At long last, the House stands up to the governor on roads

Finally, the House has done what it always had to do if it were to act rationally on financing road construction — raise the tax designed for that purpose, which had been kept ridiculously low:

The South Carolina House passed a bill Wednesday to pay to repair the state’s crumbling roads by increasing the state’s gas tax by 10 cents a gallon.

The proposal, which would raise roughly $427 million a year, passed 87-20, a large enough margin in the GOP-dominated House to survive a veto threat by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, said the “strong vote” shows House members are serious about fixing S.C. roads….

Here’s hoping House members continue to stand up against the governor’s nonsensical stance, and that the Senate acts reasonably as well.

So far, the governor has reacted in a predictable manner, demagoguing on Facebook rather than engaging lawmakers.

Body camera bill advances (too late for Walter Scott)

Just thought I’d share this report from John Monk with y’all:

A bill that would fund and require body cameras for all South Carolina police officers was passed unanimously out of a SC senate committee Wednesday morning.

The bill is now headed to the full judiciary committee for another hearing next Tuesday.

The body camera bill was introduced in December by Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington. It already has had three hearings this year in a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee led by Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

The bill also has bipartisan backing, with co-sponsors including Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, and Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, as well as Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, and Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley….

Would a body camera have prevented the Walter Scott shooting from happening? Yes, I think it would have…

Should college athletes get paid (more than the generous compensation they already receive, that is)?

If the ancient Greeks had allowed their athletes to be paid, maybe they could have afforded some clothes.

If the ancient Greeks had allowed their athletes to be paid, maybe they could have afforded some clothes.

One or two of y’all really appreciated Bryan raising sports topics in my absence, so here goes: Should college athletes get paid?

Here’s the summary section of the bill that would provide for that:

A BILL TO AMEND CHAPTER 101, TITLE 59 OF THE 1976 CODE, RELATING TO COLLEGES AND INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING GENERALLY, BY ADDING ARTICLE 5, TO PROVIDE THAT PARTICIPATING INSTITUTIONS IN THIS STATE SHALL ANNUALLY AWARD STIPENDS TO STUDENT ATHLETES WHO PARTICIPATE IN AN INTERCOLLEGIATE SPORT AND MAINTAIN A GOOD ACADEMIC STANDING DURING THE PREVIOUS YEAR, TO PROVIDE CONDITIONS FOR RECEIPT OF STIPENDS, AND TO DEFINE NECESSARY TERMS; TO AMEND CHAPTER 101, TITLE 59 OF THE 1976 CODE, RELATING TO COLLEGES AND INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING GENERALLY, BY ADDING ARTICLE 6, TO PROVIDE THAT PARTICIPATING INSTITUTIONS IN THIS STATE SHALL CREATE A STUDENT ATHLETE TRUST FUND AND FUND THE TRUST WITH A PERCENTAGE OF THE INTERCOLLEGIATE SPORT GROSS REVENUE GENERATED FROM CERTAIN SOURCES, TO PROVIDE THAT FOR EACH YEAR A STUDENT ATHLETE MAINTAINS GOOD ACADEMIC STANDING, FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS WILL BE DEPOSITED INTO THE FUND ON HIS BEHALF AND THE TOTAL TRUST FUND AMOUNT MAY NOT EXCEED TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER STUDENT ATHLETE; TO PROVIDE THAT AFTER FULFILLMENT OF ALL ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS FOR GRADUATION AND COMPLETION OF A STATE-APPROVED FINANCIAL LITERACY COURSE, THE PARTICIPATING INSTITUTION SHALL PROVIDE A ONE-TIME PAYMENT TO EACH STUDENT ATHLETE IN THE FULL AMOUNT DEPOSITED IN THE FUND ON THEIR BEHALF, TO PROVIDE CONDITIONS FOR RECEIPT OF THE TRUST FUND PAYMENT, AND TO DEFINE NECESSARY TERMS.

I say no. And when you say that college athletes are providing services worth millions to their schools, and that (even though those on scholarship are provided with a free college education if they are willing and able to take advantage of it) they can easily be exploited, chewed up and spit out by such a system…

Then I say we need to change the system, not the status of the athletes. Step it back from being a big business. Move it back toward something more akin to intramural sports among actual students.

Of course, I know I’m speaking wishfully. This situation arises from a sort of mass psychosis in the general population, a society that for reasons that continue to baffle me places an absurdly high value on the outcomes of games. Actually, not only the outcomes, but on every bit of minutia in any way connected to these games.

And that’s the problem. I admit I don’t know how to change that. But I don’t think paying players is a solution to the problem. Seems to me it would take us even deeper in…

Former lawmaker McMaster charged with burglary

I’m seeing several news reports out there about Joe McMaster, brother of Henry, being arrested and charged with burglary.

Joe McMaster

Joe McMaster

Here’s The State‘s version.

I was struck by the fact that none of the reports so far have mentioned that Joe is not just the brother of a politician. Joe himself served in the Legislature a few years back. He briefly held a House seat — I want to say just one term — before being defeated for re-election by Joel Lourie in 1998.

He represented District 78, the same seat held today by Beth Bernstein.

I wasn’t positive at first that he was the McMaster brother who held the House seat until I saw the mug shot released by the county jail, and thought, yep, that’s Joe. A little worse for wear, mind you, but that’s Joe. (In his defense, I should probably say what the character Ives said when a German remarked negatively on a POW ID photo of him: “I’d like to see one of you under similar circumstances.”)

Anyway, I thought that detail was worth taking note of…

The governor has really crossed a line when she’s managed to provoke Lucas to this extent

middle school

When I saw the above headline this morning, I immediately assumed that the quote came from a Democrat.

Not that most Republicans in the Legislature wouldn’t have been peeved at the governor over her latest outburst. In fact, privately, they would probably be more perturbed than the Dems.

But there’s a protocol to these kinds of things. Most lawmakers of both parties may be ticked off, but the Republican response to their own governor will normally be more muted, in terms of on-the-record comments, while the Democrats will say the over-the-top stuff in an effort to, well, get quoted in a headline. Because there’s no political cost for them in doing so.

So my eyebrows rose considerably when I read this part of the story:

Speaker Lucas took to the House floor Wednesday — flanked by House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland — and called the governor’s remarks unwarranted and unprovoked.

The speaker said the governor’s comments were inappropriate when speaking of lawmakers who include military veterans and working mothers.

“I believe the comments of the governor were below (her) office,” Lucas said. “I believe these are serious times with serious issues, and they demand serious people with serious answers — not name calling, not middle-school insults that serve no purpose but to poison the well.”…

The governor has really outdone herself this time.

We know she never had a good relationship with the former speaker. But he’s gone now, and good riddance. And he’s been replaced by a guy with a reputation for trying hard to work constructively with everyone, including Democrats, and especially with the governor of his own party.

Given Lucas’ reputation, he must have reached the point of thinking things are pretty far gone to have gotten up and said something like that.

Not that he’s wrong. “Middle school insults” is pretty much dead-on. I was thinking just this morning that the way our governor uses social media reminds me of the “slam books” that used to get passed around campus when I was in junior high in New Orleans all those years ago. If you don’t know what a slam book is, boys and girls, it’s like a particularly virulent form of low-tech Facebook. It was a notebook that got passed around, and kids would write things “slamming” their classmates, competing with each other to see who could be the most insulting.

But he must have concluded that things could not be improved by walking down to the governor’s office and having a chat with her. And that, as I say, indicates a pretty bad situation, the kind Strother Martin would decry as “a failure to communicate.”

Which is bad in terms of our chances for sound policy to come out of the State House.

After a couple of years in which not much got done while Bobby Harrell underwent his political Götterdämmerung, I had hoped for a more productive atmosphere in the State House. This does not bode well…

Below you can see and hear the governor making the remarks in question:

Are You Tired of Hearing about Ethics Reform?

A guest-column from Lynn S. Teague

“Brad suggested that I lead a discussion on ethics reform, since I’ve been working on it for three years now. Are you ready to tune this out because you’ve been hearing about it for three years? I am. I’d love to see the General Assembly pass strong reform, so I could sit back and rely on a sensible effective system of ethics requirements and enforcement and devote more of my time to other issues. Alas, so far it hasn’t happened. So I go on at the State House, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. However, as usual in my comments here on Brad’s blog, this post is not an official statement of League positions, but a personal comment.

On-line discussions of ethics reform, whether in mainstream newspaper responses or other media, can usually be counted on to produce comments to the effect that our public officials are all rotten and it is hopeless to try to do anything about it. I wouldn’t have spent the past three years working on this if I agreed. What are we after? We want more information about where our officials get their personal income so that we can evaluate the extent to which it might influence their thinking on public issues. We want more information (any information would be more) about those who donate money to “third party” groups that actively oppose or support candidates. We want the members of the General Assembly to play by the same rules that members of the executive branch and local governments do by integrating them into a system of independent investigation of possible violations by a restructured Ethics Commission. To that some add a whistleblower protection provision, which I would agree is very important and should be passed, although I don’t think it is essential that it happen in the context of a big ethics reform bill.

There are actually many decent honest people in public service in South Carolina, and specifically in our legislature. Many members of the General Assembly have been willing to sit down and talk with reform advocates to find common ground, something we can all live with. There has been a lot of success, embodied in H.3722, sponsored by more than a hundred members of the House of Representatives led by Speaker Jay Lucas, and in S.1, with primary sponsor Senator Larry Martin. Neither proposed bill is my personal ideal, but both are realistic approaches to a far better system of ethics law in South Carolina. S. 1 has failed second reading in the Senate (although it could be reconsidered) but H.3722 has been passed the House and has been passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee as a reworked version of  S.1, only two senators dissenting.

There are two obstacles to reform. Some legislators oppose efforts to require disclosure of donors to third party groups, claiming it is an infringement of free speech. It is not. The language in both S.1 and H.3722 has passed federal court scrutiny and additional protections of advocacy organizations has been added.

Others oppose the bill because, as passed by Senate Judiciary, it includes a system of independent investigation of possible violations by members of the General Assembly in which no legislators are involved in investigation of their colleagues. Legislators still get to make the final decisions about civil punishments of their colleagues, but that stage is preceded by investigation and evaluation by a reconstituted Ethics Commission. Some senators object and say that the system will be too politicized and legislators could be subjected to frivolous attacks. They argue that only sitting legislators understand what their situation is and can inform the process.

This raises some obvious questions. In what way is the legal standard for ethical behavior different for legislators and other officials? (My answer – It is not.) How would keeping ethics investigation within the most politicized institution in South Carolina, the General Assembly, lead to less political influence on investigations than moving it to the Ethics Commission? (My answer – It wouldn’t, quite the contrary.) Does the current Ethics Commission have a history of partisan witch-hunts that would justify this concern? (My answer – No.) Do the citizens of South Carolina deserve a system of investigation and enforcement that they can trust? (My answer – Yes, they do.) Do the many honest people who serve South Carolina deserve a system that can credibly clear their names of false charges? (My answer – Yes, of course they do.)

So, that is how I see the situation as we move toward Senate debate on H.3722 next week. If you’d like to call your senator and tell him or her that you support the Judiciary Committee version of H.3722, that would be a very good thing. If you’d like to pay close attention to how your senator votes and hold him or her accountable for that vote, that also would be a very good thing.”

Eleanor Kitzman out; the Senate played its proper role

We seldom find startling state political news in the paper on a Monday, because things don’t work that way in South Carolina. (Actually, not all that much happens on Sundays in Washington, either, although the Sunday talking-head shows sometimes create an illusion of activity.)

So it was a pleasant surprise to see this on the front page of The State today:

Eleanor Kitzman withdraws her name as DHEC agency head candidate

sfretwell@thestate.comFebruary 22, 2015 Updated 14 hours ago

The search for a new S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control director will be reopened now that Eleanor Kitzman has chosen not to seek the position.

Kitzman withdrew her name Sunday from consideration as DHEC director, just three days after being grilled by Democratic state senators about her lack of experience and conflicting statements they said she had made….

Actually, in a sense, the search won’t be “reopened.” It will begin for the first time, since the DHEC board conducted no search — it simply went with the governor’s pal without seeking other resumes.

It will be interesting to see whether the board does its job this time. And of course, I’m defining “do its job” as something other than saying “how high?” when the governor says “Jump!”

Oh, and I’m also anxious to find out the answer to this lingering question:

It was not clear Sunday night whether Kitzman would keep a temporary $74-per-hour job given to her by the agency’s acting director until the confirmation process was completed…

There were a number of weird things about this situation, and that was one of the weirdest. Or “is” one of the weirdest, if she doesn’t quit that job…

S.C. lawmakers discuss U.S. Constitutional convention

When I saw this this morning:


I had nothing to go on, so I facetiously responded, “Here we go again. Tell the boys at The Citadel to break out the red flag…”

But based on the reporter’s subsequent Tweets, I’m guessing this is what it’s about:

Amending the U.S. Constitution to make marriage between only a man and woman. (Main sponsor: Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley)

That one kinda snuck up on me. I missed that story when it ran. Or maybe I saw it, and missed the thing about Grooms wanting a U.S. con-con, which was only mentioned in a bulleted sidebar, not the main story.

I’ll let you know if it turns out I’m wrong and its about something else.

A U.S. Constitutional convention, eh? If we do that, can we straighten out the language in the 2nd Amendment this time, do something about that oddly placed comma? Not this one, the first one.

Legislative hearing on the school equity decision

I got this advisory yesterday from Bud Ferillo, who made the influential “Corridor of Shame” documentary, in case you don’t know him otherwise:

Advisory Notice
See attached official notice for the initial meeting of the new legislative committee that will consider remedies for the Abbeville v. State of South Carolina rural schools funding case.
It will be held in Room 100, ground floor of the Blatt House Office Building, at 1:00pm next Monday, February, 23, 2015.
Former U. S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina’s first two-term Governor, Richard W. Riley, a partner in the Nelson Mullins law firm which represented the plaintiff districts prop bono publico, will be the lead off speaker. See the attached Agenda for other speakers and committee business.
PLease share with others. Come early for a seat. Enter through the center door facing the Gressette Senate Office Building. All other entrances are locked.

 

Apocalyptic language from the HBCU press

In light of the discussions we’re having about S.C. State, I was intrigued when Kevin Gray posted on Facebook a link to a piece from HBCUDigest.com headlined, “On HBCUs, White House Moves From Disregard to Dismantling.”

The piece takes the Obama administration to task for not sending enough federal dollars in the direction of historically black institutions, and ends painting the picture this way:

But the president couldn’t hide his coolness towards HBCUs for long. Before his first term could end, his Department of Education orchestrated and authorized the great Pell Grant/PLUS Loan debacle of 2011. Two years later, he announced plans to tie federal aid funding to a new rating system, one which will punish schools for low graduation rates, student loan defaults, alumni employment rates, and other measures which fly in the face of the HBCU mission and profile.

And here is the latest sign that the highest offices in the nation do not want HBCUs around – millions of dollars going out in an effort to stimulate innovation and opportunities to every type of school except those where the funding is needed most, and, according to data, where the dollars would be best spent.

The other side of this equation has been the easy out given to the Obama Administration with the growing movement towards support for Minority Serving Institutions, or, MSIs. Three little letters are overtaking the Big Four in the attention and support from federal and state resources, with eager legislators quick to find a way out of funding Black colleges but not taking support away from minority students.

The ironies of this movement? The hub for the research and talking points on MSI support is based at a northern, highly selective white institution, with most of its work centering on the outcomes and examples of excellence based at Black colleges. And yet, these same colleges, which totally fit the MSI billing, have found no traction from the center to advance the national HBCU narrative, or secure transformative funding for a historically Black campus from federal sources.

In the end, there aren’t enough HBCU students to boycott or march for long enough to reverse this trend. There isn’t enough wealth among HBCU graduates to stand in the gaps opened wide by federal and state neglect. And HBCU leaders have yet to figure out how to plead their own cases for existence through Black media.

At all levels, we’re all screwed up. And the people at the very top of political and financial food chains who know well our own lack of passion, knowledge, involvement or power to change the course of our institutions, are ready to deal the final death blows to our timeless institutions.

If there’s anything at all to the perceived attitude of the administration, it makes me wonder how Arne Duncan et al. would react to the proposals floating out there regarding S.C. State…

 

The Bingham-Mitchell plan for S.C. State

This came over the transom during the last hour:

BINGHAM-MITCHELL OFFER PLAN TO SAVE S.C. STATE

Bingham,Kenny4

Bingham

Two S.C. House Members, a Republican and a Democrat, have offered legislation to keep S.C. State University open and to return the institution to financial solvency.

S.C. Representatives Kenny Bingham (Rep-Lexington) and Harold Mitchell (Dem.-Spartanburg) are filing a bipartisan bill to rescue S.C. State from its current crisis.  Bingham and Mitchell said they believe their plan is the best way to keep the institution’s doors open, protect students and replace the leadership that has brought the school to the verge of ruin.

Bingham and Mitchell’s proposed legislation follows an unprecedented letter The S.C. Executive Budget Office sent to S.C. State University President Thomas Elzey last Friday, February 13, informing him that the University has not provided the State with a budget plan and is ending the fiscal year in a deficit which the University cannot eliminate on its own.

Harold Mitchell

Mitchell

“Declining enrollment and financial mismanagement have created a deficit of at least $18.6 million,” Bingham said.  “A clear indication that students and parents know how bad things are is the shocking 40% decline in enrollment.”

State Government was recently forced to loan S.C. State $7.5 million to pay bills and make payroll. Mismanagement has placed the institution’s national accreditation at risk.  Last June the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC) put them on probation for non-compliance with standards on finances and governance.

“We are witnessing a free fall at S.C. State, and something must be done,” Mitchell said. “Losing national accreditation would devalue diplomas, undercut the investment students have made in their future, and devastate one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges in the nation.”

The Bingham-Mitchell Joint Resolution would:

  • Remove all current S.C. State Board members
  • Put S.C. State under the control of the State Budget and Control Board (SBCB)
  • Direct the SBCB to remove the current president and appoint an interim CEO
  • Direct the SBCB to make recommendations to the Legislature on how to get S.C. State through its financial crisis and secure the institution’s accreditation.

S.C. State has been in a crisis for more than three years, beginning when federal indictments for a kickback scheme forced two board members to step down.  Later, news of serious financial mismanagement surfaced, causing several administrators to be replaced and board members to resign out of frustration.

This year S.C. State notified the General Assembly that they could not make their first loan repayment. “The legislature literally had to step in to keep the lights and electricity from being cut off,” Bingham said.  “Administrators have refused to give the General Assembly basic financial information, and they clearly do not have a plan to regain solvency or to keep their school’s accreditation.”

“This was a difficult decision for us,” Rep. Mitchell said.  “But for years the Legislature has tried to bring new leaders to the board, only to see them resign in frustration as the financial crisis deepened.”

Bingham and Mitchell said in a joint statement: “We believe this type of aggressive action with immediate accountability is needed to prevent turning a very bad situation into a total disaster for the students, their parents and this historically important institution.”

# # #

So what are we to do with S.C. State?

A couple of weeks ago, I raised the question here of whether South Carolina should continue to prop up S.C. State University, given the institution’s repeated failures to be accountable for the money that keeps getting sent its way.

Now, a legislative committee has gone farther in that direction that I expected, proposing to shut the school down completely for two years, fire all the faculty and staff, and start over in 2017.

Which is really one of the bolder moves on any issue I’ve seen SC lawmakers seriously consider in quite some time.

According to The State:

Under a budget proposal approved Tuesday by a panel of the SC House, the state would:

•  Close S.C. State for the 2015-16 school year; there would be no classes or sports also in 2016-17

•  Fire trustees, administrators, faculty and staff. Halt athletics programs

•  Allow current students to get state scholarships to attend other S.C. public college or historically black universities

•  Assume the school’s debt, more than $100 million

•  Working with a panel of current and former college presidents that is advising S.C. State, develop a plan by Jan. 1, 2017, to re-open the school in the fall of 2017…

This seems unlikely to make it through the General Assembly, but it’s already changed the conversation. The next day, the Black Caucus called for S.C. State president Thomas Elzey to be sacked.

Thoughts?

Both ends of the political spectrum attacking the GOOD part of Haley’s tax-swap plan

This does not bode well for responsible policy-making in South Carolina. (Now, if there’s an “Understatement of the Year” contest somewhere, and there’s a cash prize, I want one of y’all to enter that statement for me, on account of the fact that I’m too modest to do it myself. If there’s more than one such contest, enter it in the one with the biggest cash prize. I mean, duh.)

I had an oh-so-brief, and oh-so-ill-founded, moment of optimism last week when I read this:

Competing state roads-funding plans from the GOP-controlled S.C. House and Republican Gov. Nikki Haley appear to be on a collision course unless a compromise can be reached by next week….

Because I thought, for that brief second, contrary to all past experience, that maybe it means they’re willing to raise the gas tax without a much-bigger cut in the income tax that would more than wipe out any overall advantage to the gas tax.

Silly me. I have these Panglossian moments from time to time, but they pass quickly enough when I run head-on into reality. This particular fit was fully over by the time I was done reading this bit:

Some GOP lawmakers, wary of opposition to Haley’s plan by the limited government Americans for Prosperity group, are hesitant to back a direct gas-tax increase….

Because, you know, that’s what’s important: Slavish devotion to the agendas of out-of-state groups that don’t give a tinker’s dam about South Carolina, rather than whether our state’s needs are attended to.

So basically, the problem with Haley’s “roads” plan isn’t the much-greater tax cut that has nothing to do with paying for roads. The problem, for our solons, is the very modest part that would benefit roads.

But surely, surely, there are some lawmakers who are neither automatons for Washington interest groups nor sensible folks who fear meeting such automatons in a primary.

Which is to say, there still ARE some Democrats in the Legislature, right? I mean, they’re too few to be effective or anything, but at least they can stand up for a needed, sensible tax increase when no one else will, just so somebody is standing up for wise policy. Right?

Wrong. Here’s what the Democrats are saying:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Democratic legislators say Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to cut income taxes by $9 billion over the next decade is nothing but a tax hike for more than a million South Carolinians….

Haley announced last month she’s willing to support increasing the gas tax by 10 cents over three years to pay for road and bridge work, but only if legislators cut income taxes by 2 percentage points over 10 years….

The office’s economic advisers project that 1.1 million people who file income tax returns – or 46 percent of filers – would see no benefit because they would pay no personal income taxes anyway, due to previous cuts to the bottom brackets.

Democrats note those taxpayers would, however, pay the gas increase.

“One million people will only see a tax increase,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia….

So basically, no one is articulating the case for what actually ought to happen. Which is that we should increase the tax (the ridiculously low tax) that already exists specifically for the purpose of paying for roads, since we don’t have enough money to fix and build roads. We can’t even get folks to stand up for it at a moment when it would cost so little politically, because gasoline prices are so low that no one would notice the increase.

Welcome to the State House.

Let’s ask the question: Does SC need SC State?

Or to ask it another way, does the state of South Carolina need to keep propping up an institution that has become a money sinkhole, and is not delivering on its mission, with a 13.7 percent four-year graduation rate?

This is a question, of course, that has hovered out there since USC and other formerly white institutions were integrated: Given that other state institutions are open to all, do we need a separate college that formerly existed just for folks who couldn’t get in elsewhere?

And when we ask that, we hear various arguments for why an institution like SC State — or such private colleges as Benedict — have a greater affinity for, and understand better how to educate, a portion of the population that still lacks the advantages and support systems that middle-class whites take for granted. That such historically black institutions are better at meeting such students where they are, and lifting them to where they want to be.

And perhaps that is the case.

But at some point, we need to look at whether that job of lifting up the disadvantaged is getting done, and how much we are spending on dubious returns.

Note:

Struggling S.C. State University wants an added $13.7 million from House budget writers to pay off a $6 million state loan and improve operations at the college, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the state.

The Orangeburg college must get out “from under this cloud” to improve its graduation rate, S.C. State president Thomas Elzey said after he made the school’s budget presentation Wednesday to S.C. House members.

“The negative kind of statements about the quality of this university and the value of this university (need) to be taken off the table because we are valuable, and we do offer quality,” Elzey said.

However, legislators focused on S.C. State’s financial and academic woes.

S.C. State’s enrollment has fallen 20 percent recently but the school failed to cut its budget to match lost tuition payments. As a result, the state’s only historically black public university owes vendors $10 million in unpaid bills. To reduce costs, cuts have been made to staff and are being considered for athletics, the school’s president said.

The school wants its state taxpayer money doubled – to nearly $27 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, including money to pay off the state loan – from $13 million this year.

That request does not include any money to pay back a $12 million state loan – to be issued over three years – that the Joint Bond Review Committee approved in December….

I added the bold-faced emphasis in those two places.

An institution that in recent months and years has only been in the news for financial and leadership failures wants its appropriation doubled to get out “from under this cloud?” And then what? What are the realistic prospects going forward? What do we really expect in terms of improvement and reduced need for state infusions of money?

When the bond review committee gave the school that $12 million “loan” in December, Gov. Haley said they “gave it away because they know it can’t be paid back.” And I’m not seeing any indications that she was wrong to say that.

So… where are we going with this? Where can we realistically expect to be in five years if the state keeps funneling in the money?

And at what point is it not worth it anymore?

Even hometown Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says “we’re going to have to exercise some tough love” with SC State. But how much more love of any kind is it worth investing?

These are very tough questions that everyone involved is hesitant to articulate. Maybe these questions don’t occur to anyone, but that would surprise me.

There may be a million — or 27 million (wait; 39 million counting money to pay back the loan) — reasons why I’m wrong (and heartless and insensitive) to raise such questions. I hope there are. I want to hear them.

But I thought I’d play the part of the little kid in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, if only to see if y’all can come up with those great answers for me. I want to be embarrassed for having asked such silly questions.

But I ask them because it seems that we’re just stumbling along from crisis to crisis here. And I think it’s useful to step back, and ask where we’re going, and whether we want to go there, and whether what we’re doing is getting us there…

Do you believe in the concept of the rule of law? If so, what is your personal relationship with it?

Rep. Hill, from his campaign Facebook page.

Rep. Hill, from his campaign Facebook page.

On a couple of occasions during my years chairing The State‘s editorial board, someone who had come to meet with us to advocate for a position on some complex issue would say, in response to our questions, “Wow. Y’all understand this better than a lot of legislators.”

I can’t recall now whether I was ever startled into saying this out loud, but I know what I wanted to say whenever this happened: “Well, I certainly hope so!”

You may think that sounds arrogant and conceited. But it wasn’t really. It was based in extensive experience with legislators like Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson, who distributed to SC judicial candidates a questionnaire with such questions as:

9. Do you believe in the “Supreme Being” (SC Constitution, Article VI, Section 2)? What is the nature of this being? What is your personal relationship to this being? What relevance does this being have on the position of judge? Please be specific….

14. Please name an example of a Federal violation of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and state how you would respond as a state-level judge.

15. What role do you wish to play in effecting policy change?…

19. Would you ever assign the death penalty in a particular case? Under what circumstances?…

21. Do you believe unborn children have rights? If so, how would those factor in to your decisions as a judge?…

24. Would you perform a homosexual marriage, either voluntarily or involuntarily?

25. Does the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution apply only to the militia and military, or to the people at large?…

To which one naturally wants to reply:

  1. Do you believe in the rule of law and not of men?
  2. If your answer is “yes,” what’s with the questions?

This case illustrates well something else I’ve learned over the years, something which I continue to have trouble convincing Doug of: Experience as a lawmaker has value. Which is why, if all other things are equal, I’ll pick a veteran lawmaker over a novice.

You see, Mr. Hill is a freshman lawmaker, in his first month in office. He is, in fact, a 29-year-old freshman legislator, which means that not only does he not know much about the way the political and legal worlds work, but he’s not overly burdened with life experience in general.

To his credit, he seems to understand this, and is willing to learn. As he said after staffers of the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission diplomatically told him some of the questions were “problematic:”

“You live and learn,” said Hill, a 29-year-old Anderson businessman and freshman legislator. “Maybe next year I’ll be in a better position to — if I put out a questionnaire — to craft it in a way that would work a little bit better.”…

I find that reassuring. I am less comforted that he also said this:

Hill said he tried not to ask leading questions because he wanted honest answers. “If you’re a candidate and you tell me … what you think I want to hear … that doesn’t help me at all.”…

So, apparently, he actually thought that no one could infer where he was coming from from these questions. But again, he’s young.

Fortunately, as of The State‘s reporting of the matter, no judicial candidates had actually answered Rep. Hill’s questions. This should make us all feel better.

Speaker appears ready to get to work on improving rural schools

This came over the transom this afternoon:

Speaker Lucas Reacts to Supreme Court’s Denial for Abbeville Rehearing

Releases names of the five plaintiff participants in the education task force

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Hartsville) announced the five representatives who will participate in the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force. These individuals were selected by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Abbeville v. StateSupreme Court case and their names were provided to the Speaker’s office on Friday.

The House and Senate asked for a rehearing in November after the Supreme Court issued its decision on the twenty-one year old case.  Speaker Lucas, a representative from the Pee Dee, submitted the request primarily because the Court did not provide enough clarity on how to proceed in its ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Count announcement further confirms the dire need for comprehensive education reform,” Speaker Jay Lucas stated. “In light of the Court’s decision to deny a rehearing, I am hopeful that the House Education Task Force will immediately begin its work to develop a robust strategy that ensures every child is given access to the best possible education in every part of our state. These five representatives from the Abbeville v. State case will provide significant insight and help create standards that put our state back on a path towards excellence.”

Representatives from Abbeville County School Districts v. the State of South Carolina

            Wanda L. Andrews, Ed. D.

Superintendent, Lee County School District

Former Assistant Superintendent, Spartanburg County School District 7

Former Deputy Superintendent, Sumter County School District 2

 

            David Longshore, Jr., Ph.D.

Former Superintendent and current consultant, Orangeburg County Consolidated District 3

Former Member, State Board of Education

Former President, South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA)

Former President, SCASA Superintendent’s Division

Former Consultant, Educational Testing Service

Former Member, Board of Visitors, MUSC

 

            Terry K. Peterson, Ph.D.

Senior Fellow, College of Charleston

Education Advisor, C.S. Mott Foundation

Former Chief Counselor to U.S. Secretary of Education, Secretary Riley

Former Education Director, Office of Governor Riley

 

            Rick Reames

Executive Director, Pee Dee Education Center

Former Deputy Superintendent, Florence County School District 1

 

            John Tindal

Superintendent, Clarendon County School District 2

Former Chair, State Board of Education

Former President, South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA)

            Former President, SCASA Superintendent’s Division

Seems like the speaker has a fairly healthy attitude on the subject, in that he’s ready to get to work on the problem. Or says so, anyway.

Legislative progress (or at least, progress toward progress) against criminal domestic violence

Just a couple of things to share with you from the last couple of days, reflecting progress on criminal domestic violence over in the State House — actual progress in the Senate, and movement toward progress in the House.

This came from Senate Republicans on Wednesday:

Senate Judiciary passes Criminal Domestic Violence Bill

Proposal Heads to Full Senate for Debate

Columbia, SC – January 21, 2015 – Recognizing the need for immediate movement on the issue of domestic violence, the Senate Judiciary today passed legislation that would get tougher on offenders, as well as restrict gun ownership for many of those convicted of criminal domestic violence.

S.3, sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin and others, is the first major piece of domestic violence legislation in years. Among other provisions, the bill would increases the penalties and prohibits those who have committed Criminal Domestic Violence from possessing a firearm for 10 years.

“We in state government have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in South Carolina, and tragically, that too often ends up being members of an abuser’s household,” Martin said. “South Carolina has been among the worst in the nation in domestic violence for far too long, and I’m hopeful the full Senate will address this bill quickly.”

“As a former solicitor, I’ve seen the tragedy of domestic violence more than I’d care to recall,” said Senator Greg Hembree. “When you look at those statistics, domestic violence deaths have too often involved firearms and repeat offenders. This is a commonsense way to make sure that offenders with a history of committing violence in the home are punished have a lessened ability to commit violence in the future.”

“I’m incredibly proud of my colleagues of Judiciary for moving so quickly on this bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler. “This is a bill that has been a long time coming, and I’m hopeful that we can get it to the House quickly for consideration.”

Then, this came across from the new House speaker yesterday:

Speaker Lucas Applauds CDV Ad Hoc Committee
Legislation will introduced in the House next week 

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement after the House Criminal Domestic Violence Ad-Hoc Committee completed its responsibilities and reached an agreement on legislation.

South Carolina unfortunately ranks second in the nation for women killed by men as a result of domestic violence.  This unacceptable statistic deserves immediate attention and the government has a responsibility to enact significant reforms to our laws.  Speaker Lucas is very pleased that the dedicated members of this committee have been working diligently since August to extensively investigate ways to better protect our citizens from abuse.

“Criminal domestic violence has no place in a civil society,” Speaker Lucas stated.  “Our government has a responsibility to dramatically change our laws so that we can offer our citizens the best possible protection from those who attempt to inflict senseless harm. I applaud Chairwoman Shannon Erickson and the rest of this steadfast committee for their dedication and hard work on this extremely important issue and I look forward to seeing this piece of legislation progress through the South Carolina House of Representatives.”

Chairwoman Shannon Erickson stated, “I am proud of the work of this committee. We were able to spend time listening to the concerns of domestic violence victims in addition to concerns from the law enforcement agencies charged with prosecuting their offenders. After months of work, we have a piece of legislation that will give added protections to victims, respect individual rights as well as crack down on violent domestic offenders. I want to thank Attorney General, Alan Wilson, and each individual who contributed to this much needed reform. Our work is not yet done, but we remain dedicated to strengthening justice for victims in South Carolina.”

The legislation agreed upon in this ad hoc committee will be introduced in the House of Representatives next Tuesday and proceed through the proper legislative channels.

Members of the Criminal Domestic Violence Ad-Hoc Committee:

            Rep. Shannon S. Erickson, Chairwoman (District 124-Beaufort)

Rep. J. David Weeks, Vice Chair (District 51-Sumter)

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (District 66-Orangeburg)

Rep. MaryGail K. Douglas (District 41-Fairfield)

Rep. Ralph Shealy Kennedy (District 39-Lexington)

Rep. Deborah A. Long (District 45-Lancaster)

Rep. Peter M. McCoy, Jr. (District 115-Charleston)

Rep. Mia S. McLeod (District 79-Richland)

Rep. Robert L. Ridgeway, III (District 64-Clarendon)

Rep. Edward R. “Eddie” Tallon, Sr. (District 33-Spartanburg)

Rep. Anne J. Thayer (District 9-Anderson)

Key provisions included in the legislation:

·         Removes the word “criminal” because domestic violence itself is a crime

·         Increases penalties for criminals by moving from a strictly occurrence based model to one that considers degree of injury; orders of protection; occurrence; and enhancements such as abuse to pregnant women, strangulation or incidents occurring in the presence of a minor

·         Extends time period for a bond hearing to ensure a judge has all necessary information

·         Allows the bond judge to consider not only the danger of the alleged criminal to the community, but also to the alleged victim

·         Develops a fatality review committee to study domestic violence cases which result in death

·         Adds domestic violence education to the curriculum for compressive health classes required in middle school

·         Allows judges to proceed with the case without the presence of the victim

·         Permits the Department of Social Services to study a voucher system for child care to allow the victim to appear in court

I’m noticing that Speaker Lucas has a penchant for these ad hoc committees, I suppose as a means of greasing the skids — getting some consensus from various stakeholders — before going through the actual, official bill-considering process.

Here’s hoping it works, on worthwhile bills such as these appear to be.

In any case, I’m glad to see interest from the speaker’s office in getting some things done. Lucas appears to working energetically to get beyond the malaise — actually, worse than malaise — of Bobby Harrell’s last years in office.

As to the merits of the bills — well, I’ll be interested to see what emerges as these bills move along, and see what comes out in debate. But for now, having GOP leadership in both houses showing this kind of eagerness to protect women, in a state so notorious for not doing so, is encouraging.

If you want some REform, I know where you can start

New SC House Speaker Jay Lucas put out this release yesterday:

Speaker Lucas Creates Task Force to Advance Education Reform

Appoints Legislators, Educators, and Working Professionals

 

(Columbia, SC) – House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) announced the formation of a task force to begin laying the groundwork for substantial, necessary education reforms. Speaker Lucas carefully selected the members of the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force based upon their experience and overall commitment to education.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to receive an exceptional education that paves the way for tremendous opportunity and lifelong success,” Speaker Jay Lucas said. “Effective education reform requires more than just suggestions from administrators; it demands valuable input from our job creators who seek to hire trained and proficient employees. All available avenues should be explored to guarantee our students receive a workforce-ready education that prepares each child for the 21st century.”

Speaker Jay Lucas selected Representative Rita Allison of Spartanburg to chair the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force. Rep. Allison currently serves as Chairwoman of the House Education and Public Works Committee. The Speaker also appointed six additional members of the South Carolina House, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, several working professionals, and five representatives from the plaintiffs in the Abbeville County School District v. The State of South Carolina Supreme Court decision to participate in this task force.

“I am confident that this unique and collaborative task force, under the leadership of Chairwoman Rita Allison, will successfully reevaluate our educational mandates and institute knowledgeable reforms that will put our system on a path to excellence,” Speaker Jay Lucas continued.

Chairwoman Rita Allison stated, “Speaker Lucas’ revolutionary efforts to create this task force and include private sector professionals and representatives from school districts is truly commendable. Each member of the group will provide exceptional insight that will lead to significant education reforms for the Palmetto State.”

“I am honored to be part of Speaker Lucas’ team, which brings the General Assembly and education community together,”Superintendent Molly Spearman said. “It is vital that we develop a consensus and solution that benefits all students, regardless of where they live. Together, we can develop true education reform that ensures every South Carolina student is college and career ready.”

 

Members of the House Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force

 

            Rep. Merita A. “Rita” Allison, (District 36-Spartanburg), Chairwoman of the House Education and Public Works Committee

            April Allen, Director of State Government Relations, Continental Tire Corporation

Rep. Kenneth A. “Kenny” Bingham, (District 89-Lexington), Chairman of the Public Education and Special Schools Subcommittee, House Ways and Means Committee

Rep. William “Bill” Clyburn, (District 82-Aiken), House Ways and Means Committee

            Rep. Joseph S. Daning, (District 92-Berkeley), House Education and Public Works Committee

            Lewis Gossett, President and CEO, South Carolina Manufacturing Alliance

Rep. Jerry N. Govan, (District 95-Orangeburg), House Education and Public Works Committee

  Rep. Jackie E. “Coach” Hayes, (District 55-Dillon), House Ways and Means Committee

            Rainey Knight, Former Superintendent of Darlington County Public Schools

Rep. Dwight A. Loftis, (District 19-Greenville), House Ways and Means Committee

Superintendent Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education

            Dr. James C. “Jimmie” Williamson, President and Executive Director, South Carolina Technical College System

 

NOTE: The five invited representatives from the Abbeville County School District v. The State of South Carolina Supreme Court Decision were chosen to ensure that every child in South Carolina is given access to the best education, regardless of where the student lives. The names of these individuals will be announced at a later date.

The task force will be required to submit a report to the Speaker by the first day of next year’s legislative session (Tuesday, January 12, 2016) with their findings and suggestions for reform. Speaker Lucas has highlighted a list of specific reforms he would like to see addressed in the report’s findings:

1) Structural – After reevaluating the current policy, the task force must develop a structural framework that allows every individual school district to provide the opportunity for a twenty-first century education for all students.

2) Curriculum Standards– Highlight the workforce needs, particularly familiarity and access to technology, of the state’s private sector employers and develop recommended updates to the statewide curriculum standards that emphasize the needs for increased math and science education. Curriculum guidelines should be reevaluated from the early, formative years when students enter the state’s public education system all the way through high school.

3) Programmatic Review – Conduct a thorough review of all current statewide requirements to determine what can be eliminated, consolidated or updated in order to increase available resources for classroom instruction.

4) Work Force Development and/or Tech College – With an emphasis on creating a job ready workforce, develop methods to enhance access and availability of current technical college resources.

Looks like a pretty good group, and I hope they can come up with a real reform agenda, so we can get beyond counterproductive fights over whether to pay parents to abandon the schools.

Here’s a modest proposal for a place to start…

I see that Coach Hayes is on the panel. You know, the guy who (unless the system was changed when I wasn’t looking) gets to appoint the members of the school board that are theoretically his bosses, in his role as head football coach and athletic director at Dillon High School.

The bizarre patchwork of ways that school boards are chosen across the state — with some still employing the old system of having state lawmakers run things — is one of the more obvious things we need to reform. Along with consolidating districts, making it easier to fire bad teachers, and instituting some merit pay for the good ones…