Category Archives: Legislature

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…

No special election for Harrell’s seat

It looks like the Democrats might — might, mind you — pick up a seat in the SC House this year. Bobby Harrell’s:

Former S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s name will appear on ballots in his district on Election Day, but he cannot win.

Mary Tinkler

Mary Tinkler

“The election for House 114 will go forward on Nov. 4,” said S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire in a statement. “While Mr. Harrell’s name will appear on the ballot, he is no longer eligible to win the election.”

The Republican resigned his Charleston seat and withdrew from the election as part of his guilty plea last week on charges of spending campaign money for personal use.

The county voter registration and elections offices will place prominent notices in all polling places to inform voters that Harrell is no longer a candidate, Whitmire said.

Harrell was seeking re-election Nov. 4 to his seat, facing two challengers: Democrat Mary Tinkler and Green Party candidate Sue Edward….

I say “might” because, well, this is South Carolina and that’s a Republican seat. (And if you’re so naive as to believe there’s no such thing as “a Republican seat,” you need to pay closer attention the next time the GOP is redrawing district lines.)

And… the GOP still might run a write-in candidate. Also, there is another candidate, other than the Democrat.

But at least Democrats have this moment to savor…

 

Scoppe reminds us Sheheen is a guy who gets good things done

We were treated to “steak-and-steak” in The State today. That’s what former Associate Editor Nina Brook called an editorial page that had a lede editorial on one subject, and a column on the same (or related subject). As opposed to, say, steak and potatoes. (Nina meant it disparagingly. Me, I like a lot of protein.)

And while I thought the editorial endorsement of Vincent Sheheen was fine, and made its case well (no open-minded person could come away from it thinking we shouldn’t make a change), I was more pleased with Cindi Scoppe’s column.

That’s because it made a point that I made here several months ago — that Sheheen is a remarkably successful and influential leader in our State House.

This year alone, he has been the driving force behind a shift of power from the constitutionally perverse Budget and Control Board to a Department of Administration under the governor (his baby from the get-go), a huge expansion of 4k education, without any new taxes; and a ban on texting while driving.

As Cindi concluded:

There are more legislators than I can count — and then-Rep. Nikki Haley was among them — who don’t get a single significant bill passed in their entire legislative career. To pass three in a single year, all of which will help our state … well, that’s practically unheard of, even for the Legislature’s most powerful Republican leaders.

Indeed. This campaign is about flash over substance, and there’s little doubt, to a careful observer, about which side has the substance.

Prosecutors really had Harrell over a barrel

Carolyn Callahan of WIS Tweeted this just before the hearing, showing the isolated ex-speaker in the courtroom. Hope she doesn't mind my sharing it here...

Carolyn Callahan of WIS Tweeted this just before the hearing, showing the isolated ex-speaker in the courtroom. Hope she doesn’t mind my sharing it here…

There’s a country song in there somewhere.

The man who was arguably the most powerful person in state government, boasting only a few weeks ago about how the attorney general had failed to bring him down, pleaded guilty today to six counts against him, and still has other charges hanging over his head. The terms, as reported by John Monk:

In a plea hearing at the Richland County courthouse, Harrell was given six one-year prison sentences but all were suspended by circuit court Judge Casey Manning after Harrell, 58, agreed to the following conditions in a written plea agreement:

• Harrell agrees not to seek or hold public office for three years. He also will be on probation during that time. The Charleston Republican was first elected to the House in 1993.

• Harrell will pay a $30,000 fine plus an additional $93,958 to the general fund of South Carolina. Harrell will also turn over all of his remaining campaign account to the state’s general fund. That amount was not immediately available.

• Harrell agrees to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors, including being ready to testify “fully and truthfully at any trials or other proceeding” in state or federal court. Harrell must submit to polygraph examinations….

Here’s perhaps the most interesting part:

In getting Harrell’s cooperation to be a potential government witness, prosecutor Pascoe agreed to “nol pros,” or not prosecute four other indictments against Harrell. However, under a written plea agreement, Pascoe reserves the right to re-activate the indictments and prosecute Harrell if the former speaker lies to law enforcement officials.

Such written plea agreements – in which lighter sentences are given, and some charges are dropped, in return for a criminal’s information about other potential crimes involving other people – are common in federal criminal court. In federal court, defendants also agree to submit to lie detector tests and they know that dropped charges can be brought again if the government catches the defendant in a lie…

So it looks like prosecutors pretty much have Bobby Harrell on a leash for the foreseeable future. How the mighty have… well, you know the rest. But who foresaw it happening so quickly and dramatically in this case?

 

WOW — Bobby Harrell expected to plead guilty!

Here’s another reason to feel better about the direction of our state — a big one.

Bobby Harrell, who so recently went about boasting that he had beaten efforts to bring him down, is now reported to be about to surrender completely. John Monk reports:

Suspended S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is expected to resign his House seat and plead guilty Thursday to charges of using campaign funds for his personal gain, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Harrell is scheduled to appear at a 10:30 a.m. hearing at the Richland County courthouse, according to a prosecutor’s press release….

Harrell, 58, who faces various charges of criminal misconduct in office, already has had a bond hearing and is free on $18,000 bond.

Harrell was indicted Sept. 10 on nine charges, including illegally using campaign money for personal expenses, filing false campaign disclosure reports and misconduct in office. It was the first time in memory that a sitting South Carolina House speaker has been indicted….

This is big stuff, people. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every century in South Carolina…

Time for change: Scoppe column on judicial vote-trading

Did you see the exclusive story in The State the other day to this effect:

State and federal law enforcement officials are questioning S.C. legislators about potential illegal vote swapping in February’s race that re-elected the state’s Supreme Court chief justice, multiple sources have told The State….

Did you find yourself confused in reading it? Did you think to yourself, Don’t lawmakers trade votes all the time, on all sorts of issues? Since when is that illegal?

Well, Cindi Scoppe helps walk you through all that in her column today. She explains that yes, lawmakers routinely swap votes on issues — the General Assembly would get even less done if they did not.

But she also explains how a series of horrific events in 1995 that caused lawmakers to elect less-qualified jurists to the bench led to reform, and the practice was banned — with regard to judicial selection. (And ironically, the reform was passed by a vote-swapping deal between House and Senate conferees.)

Here’s her recap of what happened back then to lead to the reform:

it starts on a sunny spring day in 1995, when the Legislature elected E.C. Burnett to the Supreme Court and Kay Hearn to the Court of Appeals and re-elected Danny Martin to the Circuit Court. Mr. Burnett and Ms. Hearn were qualified for the positions, but analyses by the S.C. Bar and the Legislature’s judicial screening committee showed that they were the least qualified candidates in their hotly contested races. The committee found Mr. Martin didn’t understand the law at all, and the Bar had declared him unfit for the bench.

As senators filed out of the House chamber after the election, then-Sen. Robert Ford bragged about how it all happened: The Legislative Black Caucus pledged 20 votes for Hearn in exchange for Horry County votes for Martin and 18 votes for Burnett in return for four Spartanburg County votes for Martin; another five Spartanburg County legislators agreed not to vote in the Martin race.

“All kind of deals was made,” Sen. Ford told reporters. “I had to sell my soul to 10 devils.”

No one denied the deals, because vote trading always had been a part of judicial elections — whether the votes involved other judicial races or legislation. And why not? Trading votes is a natural part of the legislative process….

As so often during his lamentable lawmaking career, there was the brazen Robert Ford, standing as the poster child of bad government. But of course, he was just the most visible manifestation of something much more widespread. Perhaps we even owe him a debt of gratitude for making the unsavory situation so much more obvious.

That’s all history, but the thing that deserves even more attention is this conclusion:

I supported the current system for a long time, because it was such a huge improvement over what came before. But it never was a good system, because it encourages the sort of logrolling that is alleged to have occurred in the chief justice race, and because it allows one branch of government to control the judiciary.

And if one person rules the House with an iron hand — one person who is not the governor, who is not elected by all the voters of this state, and who is not accountable to the public for his power — it allows that one person to control the judiciary. As felt so disturbingly to be the case as we watched Mr. Harrell’s treatment in our courts in the weeks and months leading up to his indictment this summer on public corruption charges.

That’s sort of new, and sort of not.

I have long held the position that we should switch to a different method of choosing judges, preferably one like the federal system — the governor nominates, and the Senate confirms. That spreads out the power across the other two branches of government, and makes sure that the one individual having extensive say in the matter is one elected by all of the people, not just one House district.

But since the reforms of the 1990s, which did much to inject merit into the current system of election by the General Assembly, I (and the editorial board) acknowledged that the system was much better than it had been, and so we let judicial selection slide to a back burner. We still advocated for change when the subject came up, but we didn’t drive it the way we did so many other issues.

The events of the past year or two — with Bobby Harrell trying to bat the judiciary around like cat with a chew toy, so soon after a dramatic example of his power in choosing justices — mean it’s time to move real, substantive reform to the front rank of priorities.

It’s high time to stop letting the Legislature choose judges, all by its lonesome.

Sheheen’s bold stand is the ONLY way the flag will come down

Vincent Sheheen’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds isn’t some here-today, forgotten-tomorrow campaign gimmick.

It’s a game-changer. But only if he somehow manages to win the election.

Sheheen was paraphrased in The State today as saying that this is an issue best addressed by a governor. Sure, he could have introduced a resolution to have it removed every session, only to have it die in committee, as did Cleveland Sellers’ one such attempt as a freshman House member. One or two lawmakers might be willing to stick their necks out, but there aren’t enough others willing to go along with them to make the effort viable. Knowing that, lawmakers see little point in making enemies over a lost cause — they have other things they want to accomplish.

But a governor has the bully pulpit to raise the issue so it can’t be buried or ignored.

That said, not just any governor would have the political leverage to overcome the General Assembly’s profound inertia on the issue. It would take a governor who campaigned on the issue, and got elected. A governor who does that would have political juice, and moral authority, unlike any we’ve seen in our poor state, which has been so sadly short on political courage for the generation that I’ve covered it.

So that raises the issue, does this move hurt or help Sheheen’s chances of getting elected? I truly don’t know. His chances were slim as it stood, barring something to shake up the equation. And I’d rather see it shaken this way — by Sheheen doing something right and good and visionary and courageous — than by some new scandal or other disaster befalling Nikki Haley.

Some think it’s automatic political death for a governor or gubernatorial candidate to embrace this issue. They’re wrong. They point to what happened to David Beasley, who stirred up the Angry White Men of his party with his abortive, half-hearted attempt to take action on the flag. Yeah, a few more neoConfederates may have voted against him. But Beasley had also alienated those of us on the other side of the issue, by so quickly reversing himself and giving up on the issue when he experienced the white backlash. Even to people who, unlike me, didn’t care about the flag, it made him look weak, wishy-washy and ineffective.

(I had only contempt for his surprised, shocked and weak reaction to the angry calls and letters. I, and to an even greater extent my colleague Warren Bolton — flag defenders got especially angry at a black man who dared to say the same things I was saying — had experienced the same phenomenon every single time we published another editorial or column on the subject. That means we had experienced it hundreds of times since I had joined the editorial board and started writing on the subject in 1994. Beasley couldn’t take a few days of it.)

And there were other reasons for Beasley’s loss.

In Sheheen’s case, not only is this likely to galvanize voters who would likely have supported him anyway — motivating them to get out and vote and urge their friends and neighbors to do so — it elevates him as someone willing to lead among many who might have been on the fence. Say, business leaders. If you’ll recall, the state Chamber backed Sheheen last time, and this time (thanks in large part to the rise of some Haley allies on the Chamber’s board), it went for Nicky. Business people can be favorably impressed by someone who is willing to lead, and to lead us in a direction that sweeps away such atavistic nonsense, such unnecessary barriers to progress, as flying that flag.

People who were dispirited by Sheheen’s lackluster, take-no-chances campaign thus far will be willing to step forward and put out some effort to get him elected.

I believe it’s at best a wash, and could be helpful to his chances.

But win or lose, he’s doing the right thing. And it’s been far too long since we’ve seen anyone who would lead us do that.

Mia gives her perspective on delegation’s election board vote

Mia McLeod is still giving the “Old Guard” hell over the Richland County elections board:

Will we ever get it right?Once again, the Old Guard  (OG) has put personal loyalties, friendships and agendas above your fundamental rights. Haven’t the voters of Richland County suffered enough?  Here we are a little more than a month away from the November elections, and your Richland County Legislative Delegation has not only taken its sweet time meeting to vote on County Election Commission candidates, but delegation leaders purposely postponed our meetings until the OG was absolutely sure it had the votes to get at least one incumbent reappointed.
So much for restoring integrity, public trust and confidence to the voting process…Now, with the November elections looming, four of the five appointees have been seated, while one has been denied confirmation by the Governor’s Office.  It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the Governor or Richland County Election Commission incumbents.  And the fact that our delegation leaders have remained steadfast in their efforts to keep pertinent information from voters and certain delegation members, while insisting upon this appointment override, is just more proof (not that we need any) that the OG continues to play by its own self-serving, manipulative rules.If I seem frustrated, here’s why:

May 2014 – Delegation members were asked to submit their written votes/ballots for County Election Commission candidates before the House adjourned. Those ballots were supposedly our “official” votes, although several of us requested (and were denied) a full/formal, publicly noticed delegation meeting

June/July 2014 – No appointments were made, no follow-up provided and no meetings of the legislative delegation were scheduled, despite several requests

August 2014 – No appointments were made, no follow-up provided and still, no meetings

September 5, 2014 – The Richland Delegation finally met to vote in person (approximately 2 months before the General Election) to fill 5 Election Commission seats, with no discussion/disposition of the May ballots

Obviously, that May ballot thingy was yet another “shady,” unofficial OG poll/ploy to determine whether they had enough votes to reappoint the incumbent.  Despite the OG Senators’ secret weapon (a.k.a. – “weighted voting”), the numbers still didn’t quite work, so what’s the OG to do?

Take no public action/votes until the numbers do work…in their favor, of course…not yours.

Waiting four more months puts new appointees at a severe disadvantage before a major general election, but that’s not their fault.  It’s the delegation’s.  And alas…the OG got the one incumbent it had been holding up and holding out for.

I know. Shocking, isn’t it?

Here’s where it gets a little tricky…er.  Turns out, after the Governor’s Office conducted the requisite screenings, only four of the Delegation’s five appointees could be confirmed and that 5th one just happened to be the 5th highest vote-getter…you guessed it, the OG’s only incumbent appointee.

Now, I don’t know why this appointee wasn’t confirmed and that’s not my issue.  I’m more concerned about whether we have a fair, transparent process so that our delegation’s OG loyalty and lack of leadership won’t cost you your vote again this November.

Knowing your vote counts is just as fundamental as the right itself.

And yet some of our delegation members have chosen to submit a letter of support, which effectively “overrides” the Governor and the procedural safeguards that are in place to protect voters–without any public input, deliberation or discussion.

Gotta give it to em…the OG gets what it wants–unequivocally and unapologetically. “The system” is set up that way.  By strategically diverting attention away from the truth and pouncing on anyone who doesn’t support its agenda, the OG successfully:

  1. reappoints incumbents over standard procedural screenings/safeguards
  2. makes it “personal” by falsely accusing dissenters of character assassination

Truth is…not too long ago, I was accused of assassinating the character of yet another member of the OG’s protected class–former Director McBride.

How’s that for déjà vu?

For me, it’s always about the process—never personal.

But as I’ve told you many times before…we can’t change the message until we change the messengers.

You shouldn’t have to worry about whether your vote counts in this upcoming or any other election, but the sad truth is…until the OG is no longer running the Richland Delegation and County Elections, you’d better worry.

For Richland County voters, it doesn’t get any more personal than that…