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By Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent | After much past ado about questionable financial practices and a lack of public access to conserved tracts, lawmakers could reauthorize the S.C. Conservation Bank indefinitely - or at least until 2028.
The bank directs taxpayer funds toward land conservation. Since its inception in 2002, more than 288,000 acres statewide in 45 counties have been conserved with the help from the bank, which aids other government agencies and nonprofits that eventually own and manage the land.
The new leader of the bank's board told Statehouse Report this week that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the bank being reauthorized prior to its legislatively mandated June 30 sunset date. He credited a budding relationship with legislators.
"Things are going as well as they could be right now," said Doug Harper of Greenville "Everybody is very upbeat right now."
Reauthorization in question
But things weren't always so rosy for the bank's future. Two events in 2017 nearly derailed hopes of the bank continuing.
Alarms from conservationists around the state first sounded after a 2017 budget proviso sought to strip the bank of funding. Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed the proviso, briefly stalling the looming 2018 reauthorization question until this year.
But a $3 million snafu threatened again to derail the bank in 2017. Money that was supposed to go to another state agency was not sent until after the issue was made public.
"Through both investigative portions (of a legislative audit and a State Inspector General's report ordered by the governor) and through the final results they (the reports) lauded the bank for its transparency, its clarity cooperation and openness. Obviously, of course, there was no malfeasance," Harper said. "Most of the findings were technical, which are being corrected."
Harper, a developer with a heart for conservation, is part of new leadership at the bank, which lost its longtime executive director to retirement at the end of 2017. Harper served on the bank board for two years prior to taking over as chair. Currently, the bank is without an executive director - and that position is expected to remain open until reauthorization is finalized, Harper said.
Lawmakers also alleged in 2017 the bank wasn't doing enough to ensure the public could gain access to land conserved by taxpayer money. That issue is addressed in the House and Senate reauthorization bills with added stipulations on public access.
Harper said increased communication with lawmakers in recent weeks has helped bring the bank from the brink.
"Several months ago there was some question about the future of the bank," Harper said. Now, he added, there is "lots of communication" between the conservation community and the Legislature.
The warming relationship appears to be paying off.
On Wednesday, a House Ways and Means subcommittee unanimously passed a bill (H. 4727) that would authorize the bank indefinitely, though it does not give the bank a dedicated funding stream. That means the bank would have to request money from the legislature annually, a difference from how it currently operates with a dedicated funding stream in place. The bill will go before the Ways and Means Committee prior to the House floor. A vote in committee has not been scheduled as of deadline.
"i see the direct connection between conserving these natural resources we've been blessed with with quality of life and economic development," Harper told the House subcommittee Wednesday. "I am strongly optimistic you're going to see a better and stronger conservation bank in the future."
The Senate has its own version (S. 7) of the reauthorization of the bank, but it maintains the sunset clause at 10 years and identifies a dedicated funding source. That bill has languished in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee since January 2017.
"We prefer a dedicated funding source but we serve at the will of the Legislature," Harper said. "If we have to go before the legislature every year, so be it We will work with whatever they come up with."
S.C. Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, said he's not certain the House's bill is ideal but it's a start.
"The concern that we've had was over how some of the funding in the past has been spent and I think they've tried to correct that," Lowe told Statehouse Report. "Maybe we've (in the House) overcorrected but they're losing the dedicated funding portion of this."
Lowe said sunsets can be helpful in keeping lawmakers informed about state agencies.
"We learned a lot about the bank because we had a sunset clause, probably more laws need sunsets so we can determine if they're following the guidelines, if they are effective," he said.
During Wednesday's subcommittee, S.C. Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, spoke in favor of the bank after being a vocal critic of continuing it in 2017.
"I'd like to commend the bank board for making moves in the last months to correct issues," he said.
The lone Democrat in Wednesday's subcommittee meeting, S.C. Rep. Lonnie Hosey of Barnwell, added that he hoped the woes of 2017 wouldn't be "revisited."
Harper told Statehouse Report he doesn't mind the heightened scrutiny the bank has received.
"If a good idea can't withstand scrutiny, it's not a good idea so I welcome scrutiny," he said. And the bank is a good idea, especially with the state's explosive growth where conserving natural resources is paramount to protecting the state's quality of life and economic development, he added. "Look at record and get into the facts, it' a great deal for South Carolina."
He went on to say the legislature should look at the bank as an investment rather than an expenditure, citing the economic benefits of natural resources and the bank's ability to win federal and private grants toward conservation.
During Wednesday's meeting, South Carolina Realtor CEO Nick Kremydas echoed Harper's sentiments.
is vital to public interest and the public good," he said.
JAN. 30, 2018 | Nearly one in three S.C. taxpayers may see their state taxes increase due to the federal overhaul of the tax code, according to numbers released Tuesday by the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office (RFA).
While the report estimated that South Carolinians will see a $1.6 billion decrease in federal taxes, the report also calculated that there could be an increase in state taxes of $246 million. But the increase is contingent upon the state continuing to conform to federal taxable income levels as well as the legislature not adjusting income brackets. State individual income tax alone would increase by an estimated $180 million, according to the report.
Those increases would largely be felt by individuals earning $50,000 to$75,000 per year, though some individuals in that bracket could see decreases, according to the report.
Looking ahead: On the budget, utilities, politics and Gowdy
Staff reports | The House Ways and Means Committee is busy with subcommittees and getting prepared for a whirlwind month of drafting the House's version of the budget. That is expected to continue next week. A predicted tight budget means there is not a lot of money to go around, which may lead to some epic funding battles.
S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who is vice chair of the committee, told Statehouse Report that higher education funding is gearing up for a big fight. A final prediction on revenues for the state, which will ultimately guide the budget, will come Feb. 15 from the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, according to House staffers.
More ahead on
utilities. The House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee will hold
another hearing Feb. 8 after the House adjourns to hear from three executives
with state electric cooperatives - John Tiencken, general counsel for
Central Electric Power Cooperatives; Rob Hochstetler, president and CEO
of that organization; and Mike Couick, president and CEO of the Electric
Cooperatives of South Carolina. The meeting will be in Blatt 110 on the
Politics sizzles. In a week that saw Gov. Henry Mcmaster call for South Carolinians to stand up for the national anthem during the Super Bowl and opponent Catherine Templeton squawk that she wouldn't watch the game, Democratic gubernatorial candidates get into action 6 p.m. Friday with a debate in Columbia.
Scheduled to participate in the Palmetto State Progressive Summit at the Columbia Metro Convention Center are Rep. James Smith of Columbia, Charleston businessman Phil Noble and Florence lawyer Marguerite Willis, who joined the race this week. Others scheduled to participate in the two-day conference include congressional candidates Sean Carrigan (SC-2), Annabelle Robertson (SC-2) and Gloria Bromwell Tinubu (SC-7). The Rev. Al Sharpton is scheduled to talk 3 p.m. Feb. 3.
SC-4 in a candidate frenzy. Candidates are scurrying around like mad after U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy announced that he wouldn't run for re-election in his Upstate congressional seat because he wanted to return to law. While he's giving up a committee chairmanship, he may end up with a seat on the federal bench sometime soon, insiders say.
Looking back: On ratepayers, manufacturers, more
Ratepayer protection passes House. The House has gutted the law that allowed SCANA to preemptively raise rates to pay for a nuclear expansion project. This means that the estimated $27 a month from the average electric bill that increased to pay for the canceled project will be removed should the bill become law. The bill now heads to the Senate, which is promising caution above all else. The Senate's V.C. Summer Project Review committee meets Feb. 14.
Manufacturers bill advances. The Senate gave final readings on a bill that would bar neighbors from suing industrial neighbors as long as they are in compliance with state agencies. When the legislature reconvened three weeks ago, the bill was put on "special order" for quick passage by Senate Republicans. The bill now goes to the House to reconcile two of the Senate's amendments
Children's advocate advances. Legislation creating the state's first Children's Advocate, which would umbrella several child-focused watchdog agencies, has come out of a Senate subcommittee and will be heard in front of the full General committee on Feb. 14 .
'Personhood' delayed. Advocates say a delay on the so-called Personhood Act, which would effectively ban abortion in the state, means the bill is "circling the drain" - especially as key Republican sponsors such as S.C. Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, voiced concern about ramifications. The bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary committee.
Pregnancy accommodations advances. A bill encouraging employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and protecting those employees from being terminated has advanced in a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. The bill (H.3865) narrowly passed the House last April with a vote of 52-50.
New directors named. Joshua Baker has been appointed director of S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Sara Goldsby has been appointed director of S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse Services, and Meghan Walker, an assistant solicitor in Richland and Kershaw counties, has been named as the director of the State Ethics Commission. Both Baker and Goldsby were acting as interim directors of their agencies. Also this week, Gov. Henry McMaster re-nominated Mark Keel to lead the State Law Enforcement Division. His nomination for a six-year term goes to the state Senate.
UPDATED, 2/4 | S.C. Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, will file the S.C. Paycheck Fairness Act next week to push gender pay equity and continue efforts similar to the S.C. Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (S. 257 and H. 3599) filed last year respectively by Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia, and Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.
According to a press release, Smith's bill, which was not filed Thursday due to the House adjournment, is aimed at combatting the gender pay gap: women working full-time earn just 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. The pay gap is even worse for African-American women, who earn just 53 cents on the dollar.
"You can't fight
pay discrimination if you have no idea whether you are making less than
the man across the hall. Employees need robust legal protections so they
can talk about how much they make without fear of relation from their
employer," McLeod said in a statement.
IN THE SENATE
Senators filed about
20 bills during the week. Highlights include:
IN THE HOUSE
House members introduced
105 bills, including 57 congratulatory resolutions by Rep. Alan Clemmons,
R-Horry, to recognize Boy Scouts for becoming Eagle scouts. Of note:
By Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent | Our weekly Top Five feature offers big stories or views from the past week or so with policy and legislative implications that you need to read because of how they could impact South Carolina. If you have stories to suggest to our readers, send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Andy Brack, editor and publisher | If the 2018 gubernatorial race in South Carolina were a sound, it probably would be the chilling screech of fingernails dragged across a blackboard.
Folks, it's the Year of the Panda, a season already with some of the worst political pandering in recent memory. The nonsense coming out of gubernatorial campaigns is more painful than bamboo shoots being stuck under those screeching fingernails - shoots that should nourish pandas, not irritate voters.
Winner of the week's pandering award is Gov. Henry McMaster for the blatant ploy to suck up to voters by proclaiming Feb. 4 to be "Stand For The Flag Super Bowl Sunday."
Some Einstein in McMaster's campaign wins a graduate degree from Bonehead University for this farce. McMaster, normally a genial establishment guy, wants people to honor South Carolina veterans by standing up during the playing of the national anthem at the Super Bowl. It's a move to latch onto a cause celebre in conservative circles to counter any football players who take a knee as a silent protest for racial inequality and police brutality. These silent protests, which have been going on since the 2016 season, haven't been too successful among fans, but keep making headlines thanks to politicians.
So McMaster, obviously scared of the fundraising prowess of former state agency director Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant in the GOP battle to get the gubernatorial nomination, wants a new way to connect with voters and show his conservative bona fides.
In an official proclamation, McMaster encouraged "all South Carolinians to stand for the national anthem before Super Bowl LII to honor the service and sacrifice of generations of men and women of the United States Armed Forces."
Horse hockey. This is pandering of the worst sort and voters should see it for what it is - a longtime politician desperately looking for a way to shore up support for a lackluster campaign.
Hours after McMaster's proclamation, Templeton jumped in to continue a narrative of cynicism and unfounded anger that drags the race more into mud. In a web video, Templeton said it was spoiled to not stand up during the anthem and that she would have an important message online during the game. Why? To get people enjoying a game to think of politics during that game.
What a buzz kill. It's unbridled pandering by a candidate seeking to wrap herself in the flag to veterans of a military in which she didn't serve.
Let's be clear. If I were at the Super Bowl, I'd stand during the national anthem. Why? Because I believe it's the right thing to do out of respect for our country. But I have absolutely no problem at all in anyone exercising the right of free speech by kneeling like they do in church to illustrate we need to pray for a country that hasn't done enough to minimize shootings of black youths or racial inequality. Quite frankly, as one Facebook reader pointed out, the Super Bowl is a game and might not even be an appropriate venue in which to play any banner, star-spangled or otherwise.
Nevertheless, when candidates come around and use the anthem for their partisan, political purposes, voters should take offense that these pandering politicians actually are disrespecting the anthem because they're using it for selfish reasons.
Incidentally, Templeton took pandering to another level in recent days when she went ballistic about a mistake by The State newspaper over a picture in a news story. The paper mistakenly used her photo instead of another former agency director named Catherine in a story about the latter. Mistakes like this happen periodically in newspapers simply because those in the business juggle millions of words and pictures every year. It's not good to have mistakes, but it's pandering to yell "fake news" when it's not.
South Carolina's Democratic gubernatorial candidates James Smith of Columbia and Phil Noble of Charleston haven't yet slipped into much pandering, but it's sure to come. With Florence lawyer Marguerite Willis joining the race this week, the candidates will have to work harder to distinguish themselves.
Rule of thumb: If
a candidate seems particularly strident about something, look closely
to see if they're serious or if they're trying to use an issue just to
get an emotional reaction - and your vote.
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By Jack Bass |
On the night of Feb. 8, 1968, police gunfire left three young black men
dying and twenty-seven wounded on the campus of South Carolina State College
in Orangeburg. Exactly thirty-three years later, Governor Jim Hodges addressed
an overflow crowd there in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium, referring
directly to the "Orangeburg Massacre"-an identifying term for
the event that had been controversial-and called what happened "a
great tragedy for our state."
The audience that
day included eight men in their fifties-including a clergyman, a college
professor, and a retired army lieutenant colonel-who had been shot that
fateful night. For the first time they were included in the annual memorial
service to the three students who died-Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton,
and Henry Smith. Their deaths, more than two years before the gunfire
by Ohio National Guardsmen that killed four on the campus of Kent State
University, marked the first such tragedy on any American college campus.
The shooting occurred
after three nights of escalating racial tension over efforts by South
Carolina State students and others to desegregate the All Star Bowling
Lanes. On Monday night, Jan. 29, 1968, six black students entered the
bowling alley. As planned, one of the college's two white students had
preceded them and was bowling when they entered. When the others asked
for bowling lanes, they were told the bowling alley was private. Pointing
to the white student, they asked how the bowling alley could be private
when a schoolmate was bowling and he was not a member. The white student
was ordered to stop bowling, and the students were told to leave. A week
later, more than a dozen students returned to the bowling alley. This
time bowling alley operator Harry Floyd called the police. The police
chief and city administrator evaluated the situation, determined it was
explosive, and ordered the alley to close for the night.
The next night at
the bowling alley, some students voluntarily had themselves arrested in
order to contest trespass charges. As volunteers were escorted to patrol
cars, another student told hundreds attending a movie about the arrests.
Students poured out of the auditorium and headed downtown. Highway patrolmen
carrying riot batons joined local police in front of the bowling alley.
One officer reported that he swung his baton and hit someone after a caustic
liquid was thrown in his face. Other officers quickly joined in. By evening's
end, a policeman and ten students received hospital treatment for injuries,
and others were treated at the campus infirmary.
to campus vented their anger on white-owned businesses, throwing bricks,
rocks, and sticks of firewood. In the wake of major urban riots the previous
year across America, the state responded as though it were a major civil
disorder. Total insurance claims for damages that night, however, amounted
to less than $5,000.
Wednesday, Gov. Robert E. McNair called in 250 National Guardsmen and
additional highway patrolmen. The day began with city officials meeting
with students and staff in the campus auditorium. Students hooted when
officials were unable to answer specific grievances. Official attention
soon focused on twenty-three-year-old Cleveland Sellers, who had returned
to his native South Carolina as third-ranking officer in the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) after several years on the front lines of
civil rights struggle in Alabama and Mississippi. Frustrated students
that night pelted passing cars, and police blockaded the highway. Rumors
of "black power" threats spread, merchants armed themselves,
and tension continued to mount. Sellers told a reporter Thursday afternoon,
"Everyone is looking for a scapegoat."
The shooting occurred
at 10:38 that night, after students lit a bonfire and a patrolman advancing
to protect firemen was knocked down by a thrown object that bloodied his
face. About five minutes later, as taunting students who had retreated
into the campus interior headed back toward the bonfire, a patrolman fired
a carbine into the air, intended as warning shots. Instead, it triggered
a fusillade of police gunfire. The Associated Press misreported the episode
as "a heavy exchange of gunfire," but evidence later revealed
that while some objects were thrown at police, there was no exchange of
gunfire. The students were unarmed. Of 66 patrolmen on the scene, nine
later told Federal Bureau of Investigation agents they had fired at the
students after hearing shots. Some fired more than once. Eight fired riot
guns, short-barrel shotguns designed to disperse a crowd or mob, not to
maim or kill. The ammunition issued for the riot guns was lethal buckshot,
shells used by deer hunters that contain nine to twelve pellets as large
as .38 caliber pistol slugs. A ninth patrolman said he fired his service
revolver six times as "a spontaneous reaction to the situation,"
and at least one city policeman fired a shotgun. The gunfire lasted at
least eight to ten seconds. No National Guardsmen fired weapons.
When the fire truck
arrived to put out the bonfire, Sellers left a room on the campus to see
what was happening. He was shot in the armpit. After being identified
at the hospital by the sheriff's only black deputy, he was taken to the
courthouse, charged with a variety of crimes, and speedily taken to the
state penitentiary in Columbia.
At a noon press conference
the next day in Columbia, Gov. McNair called it "one of the saddest
days in the history of South Carolina" and expressed concern that
the state's "reputation for racial harmony has been blemished."
With his South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) chief beside him,
McNair made four factual misstatements of what happened, including an
assertion that the shooting took place "off the campus." (Later,
in his final address to the legislature, McNair referred to what happened
at Orangeburg as "a scar on our state's conscience.")
In the months that
followed the shooting, after a grand jury refused to indict the nine patrolmen,
U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark tried the patrolmen on criminal charges.
A jury took less than two hours to acquit the patrolmen on grounds of
self-defense. In an interview years later, one of those defendants, Joseph
Howard "Red" Lanier, Jr., after serving as Highway Patrol commander,
expressed remorse about what had happened and acknowledged that the patrolmen
had been "poorly trained."
was convicted in 1970 of "riot" for his actions at the bowling
alley on Tuesday and served seven months in minimum security. He went
on to earn a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
to go with a master's degree from Harvard he received before going to
prison. He later returned to South Carolina, and in 1993 the University
of South Carolina hired Sellers as director for its program in African
American studies. [Editor's note: Sellers recently retired as president
of Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C. ]
To the editor:
The South Carolina House of Representatives Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee has completed its January 2018 Findings and Recommendations Report. They have spent their time traveling the state and listening to individuals and families concerns as well as reviewing information from experts in the field. This was no easy task; they listened to grieving parents, families that did not have access to care and providers who needed funds to keep up with the endless need of providing care. I applaud the committee members for listening with compassion and with open eyes and ears.
Now that the report is written, the legislators as well as the governor must read and re-read the recommendations for clarity and feasibility. They must look at these recommendations understanding that S.C. lives are at stake. It is in our best interest to prioritize what will help families the most and what will make the biggest difference in people's lives.
It is with urgency that legislators bring the list of health recommendations to the forefront and leave those that involve prosecution and law enforcement on the back burner. We have learned that blaming and prosecuting those that provide the drugs or traffic in drug distribution has done nothing to curtail the opioid death rate. The legislation in and of itself is vindictive, revenge based and ineffective.
We have learned much from the tragedy and heartache of the Emanuel Nine families; compassion, forgiveness and understanding is the only way that people may start to heal and go forward with their lives. This same approach must be taken when addressing the opioid crisis.
It is my hope that the legislators concentrate on the health and healing legislative bills and leave the blame game behind. They need to coordinate agencies, educators, public health, community programs, hospitals and doctors to work together to address this most pressing issue. Funds need to be provided, care needs to be available, educational aspects need to be stressed and acceptance of those that are hurting must be accommodated. This can only be done when compassion and understanding comes first.
Here's an old photo that might bring back some memories to people in a particular part of South Carolina. Where is it? What is it? Send your best guess - plus your name and hometown - to email@example.com. In the subject line, write: "Mystery Photo guess."
Last week's mystery
With all of our computer problems over the past couple of weeks, we apologize if some of your mystery guesses to us bounced back. We're getting things worked out.
Last week's mystery was a photo of a lettered olive, the state's official shell, which was identified correctly by George Graf of Palmyra, Va., and David Lupo of Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Graf wrote: "In
1984, the shell was designated the official state shell of South Carolina.
According to sanibelseaschool.org, These shiny shells can often be seen
at low tide slowly cruising along the sandbar. Even though they look peaceful,
olives move across the sand in search of tiny bivalves that they grab
with their muscular foot, then drag below the sand to consume.
| The Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel is an unfinished nineteenth-century railroad
tunnel located near Walhalla. The variation of the name "Stump House"
was drawn from the legend of a Cherokee woman who lived on the mountain
with her white husband. Rejected by both their respective communities,
the couple lived on the mountain in a log home built atop stumps.
In the 1850s Stumphouse
Mountain played a key role in South Carolina's attempt to participate
in antebellum America's commercial revolution. Planners contemplated cutting
a one-and-one-half- mile railroad tunnel through the heart of the mountain
in order to link the state's rail lines with the Blue Ridge Railroad coming
from Knoxville, Tennessee. This enterprise, if successful, would have
linked Charleston with the commercial heartland of the young nation. Unfortunately,
the price of tunneling through Stumphouse Mountain proved prohibitive.
The state government spent $1 million, and workers (ten of whom died)
dynamited and drilled for three years before funds ran out in 1859. Two
years later, with the outbreak of the Civil War, state planners abandoned
the project, still one thousand feet short of completion. Briefly revived
in 1876 and 1900, and discussed as late as 1940, the Stumphouse Mountain
Tunnel was never completed.
In 1951 Clemson College
purchased the tunnel and for several years experimented with curing blue
cheese in its cool, damp environment. Clemson leased the tunnel to the
Pendleton Historic District in 1970, and it was listed in the National
Register of Historic Places the following year. The tunnel became a popular
tourist attraction but was closed to visitors following a rock slide in
the mid-1990s. After rigorous safety testing, the tunnel reopened as a
public park in 2000.
Statehouse Report is continuing to experience database issues and our full offerings are not online now. This week's issue is brought to you in one long post -- like we used to.
ISSUE 17.05 | Feb. 2, 2018
NEWS: New Conservation Bank head "cautiously optimistic" about future
NEWS BRIEF: $246M tax hike slated if adjustments not made, report says
CALENDAR: House working on budget; Bills advance
TALLY SHEET: Top Dems push gender pay equity
TOP FIVE: From Montessori and corruption to STDs and drunk driving
It's the Year of the Panda in S.C. politics
SPOTLIGHT: Charter Communications
MY TURN, Bass: 50 years ago: The Orangeburg Massacre
FEEDBACK: Put opioid health recommendations on front burner
PHOTO: Where in the world is this?
SC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel
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