Category Archives: Legislature

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…

 

Democrats walk back their awful casino proposal (a bit)

Two days ago, I said I hoped that when the SC House Democrats announced their legislative priorities on Tuesday, they would back away from their awful idea of legalizing casinos in order to pay for roads.

I didn’t have much confidence that they would, and I didn’t attend their presser.

But I’m pleased and surprised by the release they sent out after yesterday’s event. No, they didn’t abandon the idea. But it was no longer the first thing they mentioned on the topic of paying for roads, and the first thing was now the one rational way to do it — by raising the tax that is intended for that purpose, a tax that hasn’t been raised since 1987:

SC House Democrats Announce 2015 Legislative Agenda
Highlights include road funding, education funding reform, equal pay, redistricting reform
Columbia, SC – South Carolina House Democrats announced their legislative agenda for the 2015-16 session at a press conference at the state house on Tuesday. Led by Minority Leader Representative Todd Rutherford, Democrats first stressed the need to tackle road funding this session.
“House Democrats are endorsing an ‘all of the above’ approach to road funding this year,” said Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland). “The time to be picky about how we fund our roads is over. Simply put, we will not stand in the way of a gas tax increase, nor will we stand in the way of new revenue through casinos. The only thing we’ll stand in the way of is kicking the can down the road. We have to plug our $45 billion infrastructure deficit before a bridge collapses and people die.”
Democrats also called on the Governor and Republicans in the general assembly to withdraw their “embarrassing” appeal to the Supreme Court ruling over K-12 funding.
“For twenty years, Republicans have ignored the issue of education funding in South Carolina,” said Representative James Smith (D-Richland.) “Instead of fighting the Supreme Court ruling calling on us to address the inequalities in school funding, let’s actually roll up our sleeves and do it. We owe it to the students, parents, and teachers of South Carolina. “
Democrats also called on Governor Haley to negotiate a South Carolina-centered alternative to Medicaid Expansion with the federal government to allow us to bring our federal tax dollars back to the state.
“It makes zero sense to continue to refuse to accept our own tax dollars just so Governor Haley can thumb her nose at the President,” said Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg). “Fourteen Republican Governors have now come out in support of some sort of Expansion alternative that they negotiated with the federal government. Why shouldn’t we do the same?”
The other issues Democrats will focus on this session include equal pay for female state employees. South Carolina is one of just four states in the nation without a equal pay law. Representative Leon Stavrinakis has proposed a bill that would ban gender pay discrimination among state employees. His bill was modeled after a Louisiana bill that passed an overwhelming Republican General Assembly and signed into law by conservative Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.
House Democrats also endorsed a plan to establish a living wage in South Carolina. Currently, South Carolina is one of just five states in the country without a state-mandated minimum wage law. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter’s proposal would set the wage at $10.10 per hour.
Democrats also pledged their support for ethics reform this session. Though they said any ethics reform should also include reforming the redistricting process in South Carolina. Their proposal would install an independent panel to draw district lines instead of partisan legislators. In 2014, 100% of all incumbent legislators were re-elected in the general election.
“District lines are purposely drawn by legislators in order to create a safer political environment for themselves and their political party,” said Rep. Laurie Funderburk (D-Kershaw), the author of the bill. “Gerrymandering has created a polarized legislature that seeks to root out moderates and replace them with politicians who only have to worry about winning their primaries. Reforming our redistricting process is critical to a more functional General Assembly and regaining the trust of the voters.”
####

Sure, I’d like to see them pick up the gas tax ball and run with it, but this indirect sort of endorsement at least marks progress.

Here’s hoping SC House Democrats’ priorities have improved over the last couple of weeks

I received this this morning:

SC House Democrats to Unveil Agenda and Discuss 2015 State of the State at Tuesday Press Conference
 
Columbia, SC – SC House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, will hold a press conference on Tuesday morning, January 20th, to unveil their 2015 legislative agenda and to discuss expectations for Governor Haley’s 2015 State of the State.
Who: SC House Democrats
What: Press Conference to Unveil 2015 Legislative Agenda and Discuss Governor Haley’s State of the State
When: Tuesday, January 20th – 11:45am
Where: SC State House – First Floor Lobby
For More Information please contact Tyler Jones at 843-732-2550 or tylerjonesmail@gmail.com
####

Here’s hoping that SC Democrats’ priorities have changed somewhat since they released them a couple of weeks ago. Particularly, I hope they’ve scrubbed the first one:

  1. 3127 – Allow gaming referendum to pay for roads (Rutherford)
  2. 3110 – High Quality Education for public schools (W. McLeod)
  3. 3140 – Legalization of Medical Marijuana for Patients (Rutherford)
  4. 3031 – Establish a state minimum wage (Cobb-Hunter)
  5. 3253 – Establish an equal pay law in South Carolina (Stavrinakis)
  6. 3174 – Comprehensive Ethics Reform (Tinkler)

I hope, I hope, I hope…

Courson, McElveen to host conservation confab

This came in today from the CVSC. I pass it on in case any of you would like to attend:

Conservation Voters:

Let’s get to work! The legislative session starts today and we are ready.

We hope you will join us for the Senate Briefing: Conversations with Conservationists on January 21st at 10:00 am in Room 105 of the Gressette Building. Hosted by Senators Courson and McElveen, this is an opportunity for members and supporters of SC Conservation Coalition to share their legislative priorities with decision makers.

Your presence makes our voice stronger so please join us for the Briefing and for an informal lunch afterwards at 701 Whaley.  You can let us know if you plan to attend: info@cvsc.org or on Facebook.-

Something like this also helps explain, for those confused, why all those Democrats in Shandon keep voting for John Courson…

You want to REOPEN the epic school-equity case? Really?

I was a bit surprised that this was played at the bottom of The State‘s front page today. Back in my front-page-editor days, I would have found a way to get it above the fold along with the Metts plea deal — to the right of it, in the traditional lede position.

We spend two decades trying a case in which the poor, rural school districts of our state petition for an equal chance for the children in their charge. Finally, finally, the state Supreme Court issues its ruling — that the state is indeed not providing an equal chance for all its pupils, and must remedy the situation.

And now, this:

Gov. Nikki Haley and state lawmakers are fighting a court order aimed at improving the state’s school system in rural, poor districts.

In two petitions filed with the S.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, attorneys representing Haley and lawmakers asked the justices to rehear a landmark school equity lawsuit that rural school districts, including Abbeville, brought against the state more than 20 years ago…

The court ruled 3-2 in November that the state failed to provide children in poor, rural districts with an adequate public education as required by the S.C. Constitution.

Without recommending specific policies or actions, the court ordered lawmakers and the school districts to devise a plan to address the problems the court identified, including weak rural tax bases, aging facilities and the difficulty of recruiting quality teachers to rural areas. The court also said the state’s method of paying for schools was unfair and needs to be updated, and hinted some small school districts may need to be merged.

However, Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson’s petition for a rehearing says the Supreme Court’s majority “overlooked recent education initiatives put in place by (Haley’s administration) and the General Assembly that will directly affect rural school districts in South Carolina.”…

Really? You want to reopen a case that took this long, rather than go ahead and do what you should have done without a lawsuit?

What — do you think the court didn’t spend enough time pondering it before?

Look, I appreciate that the governor and lawmakers took steps in this past session to do more to help the poorer schools out. I’ve praised them for it. But that improvement is the sort of thing you would hold up to show, as we go forward, that you’re trying to implement the ruling — not used as an excuse to ask the court to reconsider.

But going back and trying to drag this thing out further is no way to follow up that good first step. The governor and lawmakers should instead be competing with one another to come up with the best ideas to improve the rural schools, starting perhaps with something that most politicians at least give lip service to — consolidating districts, to eliminate duplication in administration and give the poorest districts access to the tax base in the more affluent districts in their counties.

Or something. Show some leadership, folks. Instead of what I can only categorize as sullen foot-dragging.

This morning’s CRBR legislative panel

Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Nathan Ballentine, Rep. Beth Bernstein, and Otis Rawl of the state Chamber.

Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Nathan Ballentine, Rep. Beth Bernstein, and Otis Rawl of the state Chamber.

I went to this morning’s “Legislative Lowdown” breakfast sponsored by the Columbia Regional Business Report. I waited and let Chuck Crumbo go ahead and write about it, since he gets paid to, and here’s his report. Use that as a baseline.

The panel was the same as this one in 2010, only with Rep. Beth Bernstein in place of Rep. James Smith.

Here are a few random impressions I formed:

First, while I think these annual sessions have been highly informative and fair to all viewpoints, CRBR should probably make an extra effort to get more Republicans on the panel, just to more accurately reflect realities. I wouldn’t take any of the Democrats away; I’d add a couple more Republicans — maybe Kenny Bingham and John Courson, or Katrina Shealy.

Here’s the one thing I Tweeted out during the session:

Otis wasn’t saying we shouldn’t have ethics reform, but he certainly seemed to regard it as a distraction, as a plate of vegetables with no meat, saying, “I know they’ve got to do this,” but… His tone reminded me of the bank examiner in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Remember George Bailey, all animated, telling him about the fact that his brother is going to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from the president, and the bank examiner says, without a shred of interest, “Well, I guess they do those things….”

Well, that’s Otis being told about ethics reform. He supposes legislators have to get this ethics stuff out of their system, but he’ll be glad when they’re done and move on from it.

Now in his defense, he sees the urgent need for workforce preparation, infrastructure and other things that bear on our economic well-being, and he should be focused on those things. But he was really a wet blanket on the ethics stuff.

Others were more interested in the topic. Rep. Bernstein predicted that, again, the sticking point will be independent oversight, instead of lawmakers policing themselves. She said that was key, but signaled willingness in a pinch to accept a “hybrid” approach, with some lawmaker participation.

On Medicaid expansion, Sen. Joel Lourie said two things that interested me. First that Christian Soura, the guy Nikki Haley just appointed to replace Tony Keck at HHS despite his never having done anything like that, is a very impressive guy. I’ve gotta meet this guy, if Joel thinks that. Or at the least, hear an elaboration on what impressed Joel. Then, he said he appreciates the position of those who oppose Medicaid expansion because they’re worried about the state having to pay 10 percent of the cost after three years. I usually don’t hear Democrats say things like that.

As Chuck noted in the lede of his report, there was pretty much a consensus that for lawmakers to act meaningfully on paying for roads, there would have to be a lot of pressure on them from outside the State House. Sen. Lourie said there are three kinds of people in the Legislature on this — those who clearly see the need to come up with road funding, those who can maybe be talked into it, and “the not no, but ‘hell no’ group.” Republican Nathan Ballentine said that was accurate, and “The majority in the House, the majority in my party, are in the ‘hell no’ category.” He says he’s not afraid of raising the gas tax, and noted that he voted for the cigarette tax increase awhile back. But getting the rest to go along will take heavy lifting, especially with the governor’s veto threat. There was discussion of raising fees for driver’s licenses. Otis Rawl noted that we only pay about $2 a year for those, and certainly, he asserted, it’s worth more than that for our families to travel on safe roads (and for our goods to get to market, he was quick to add).

It was predicted that roads, ethics and one other matter — reacting to the Supreme Court decision saying the Legislature hasn’t done enough to educate children in poor, rural districts — will dominate the session. The general consensus among these suburban lawmakers was that whatever is done for the poor, rural districts, it not be taken away from the affluent suburban districts. Which to me indicates more money would have to come into state coffers, although I didn’t hear anyone say that overtly.

And of course, more than money is needed. After talking about how bad things are in Marion County, Sen. Lourie said, “Maybe we don’t need three districts in Marion County.”

That caused me to break my rule about not asking questions at such events. I rose to suggest that everyone talks about school district consolidation until it strikes close to home. I agree that there shouldn’t be three districts in Marion County, but I asked, “should there be three districts in Richland County, and five in Lexington?”

He actually had a good answer. As he said, if the state is going to help out Marion County in ways that Richland and Lexington districts aren’t asking it to do and don’t need it to do, then there’s an extra expectation that Marion should do some things it can do on its own — like getting rid of duplicative administration. Rep. Ballentine agreed, saying there’s a much greater imperative to consolidate in districts with fewer students total than you would find in a single school in the city.

Yes, they’re right. The case for consolidation is much more compelling in the rural districts. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good thing in the big counties, as well.

Anyway, that’s my rambling report…

 

Court rules for poor kids in 21-year-old lawsuit, says SC hasn’t done enough to educate them

I hadn’t intended to post today beyond the Open Thread, but this is major, historic news.

I wish Steve Morrison, who led the charge on this for so long, had lived to see this:

The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that state government is not doing enough financially to guarantee a “minimally adequate” education for public school students in poor areas of the state.

The court ruled 3-2 Wednesday in favor of plaintiff districts in the 21-year-old school equity suit.

The court rejected state lawmakers’ arguments that decisions on school funding belong to the General Assembly, not the courts. Lawmakers had argued that they alone should determine what the state constitution’s “minimally adequate” means.

Justices, however, found that the school districts must better identify solutions for their districts’ needs and work with state lawmakers on how to fix them….

Of course, the big, billion-dollar question is, What will South Carolina DO about it?

It is, unfortunately, up to our General Assembly. As Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote:

“it is the Defendants who must take the principal initiative,” the ruling states, “as they bear the burden articulated by our State’s Constitution, and have failed in their constitutional duty to ensure that students in the Plaintiff Districts receive the requisite educational opportunity”

But WILL they? They, after all, are the ones who have fought this. How can the Court compel action in this case? I don’t know enough to say…

FYI, Legislative Black Caucus DID have a white member

black-caucus

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, circa 2009.

On a previous thread, we got into the whole why-can’t-there-be-whites-only-organizations-when-there-are-blacks-only-organizations thing (get enough white guys together, and this will eventually come up — you know how those people are), with the Legislative Black Caucus being mentioned, as per usual.

Which reminds me…

Last time we had such a discussion, I got an enlightening DM from Bakari Sellers. Our conversation follows:

Harvin

Huh. “She paid her dues and asked.” Doesn’t sound like a terribly high bar.

By the way, here’s evidence, if you need it.

Cathy Harvin, for those who don’t recall, was elected to the SC House in 2005 in a special election to replace her late husband, Alex. She served for five years until her own death, at the age of 56, from breast cancer.

To my knowledge, the caucus does not currently have any white members.

A couple of broadcast ads from House District 78

The above Beth Bernstein ad came out a couple of days ago. Just getting around to sharing it now.

And as soon as I posted it, Beth’s opponent, Republican Jeff Mobley, commented below to call our attention to his radio ad, below. So I rewrote the post to include that prominently…