Is the “DoA” DOA this year?
Clock ticking on major government restructuring
By Bill Davis, senior editorMAY 13, 2011 – Some bills age like wine, taking on better qualities the longer they are nurtured. Other bills age like bread, becoming covered with unpopular mold within days and discarded when the light of day hits them.
The proposed bill to create a new state agency, the Department of Administration (DoA), in the executive branch to oversee a large swath of other agencies has become a hybrid of wine and bread, kind of a bread pudding.
Discussion on its creation has been bubbling for years, coming to a higher boil this legislative session, but still not to a roiling boil.
And with the clock ticking down on the final weeks of the session, some worry – especially in the Senate – that there is not enough time to bring a completed bill to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk to sign.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) has been the proposed department’s most ardent supporter, ginning up interest for it during Gov. Mark Sanford’s tenure. More accurately, he ginned up “limited” interest during the Sanford regime, as few in the legislature wanted to cede any more power over to a governor largely hated among lawmakers.
Sheheen also made its creation a major campaign plank in his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year.
But then with Haley’s election, the people spoke, according to one Senate leader speaking on background, and the Senate listened. The call for a more executive-friendly form of state government became more universal. Interest in the proposed department revived and intensified.
And now the legislative session is moving toward its final course for the year. If a bill creating a Department of Administration is going to get passed, it better be before the dessert of adjournment comes.
Sheheen’s version has been passed over this year by a compromise bill cooked up in the House – the South Carolina Restructuring Act of 2011.
This version would make the proposed department take on the duties of the Budget and Control Board, as well as being state government’s primary property broker. It also would be given oversight over everything from the state’s information technology office to human resources.
Part of the reasoning behind the bill was to create more direct accountability for the executive branch and how state government is run. Another big part would be cost savings, as mundane duties from issuing insurance to employees to hiring new ones would be handled under one roof, instead of potentially duplicative offices across Columbia and the state.
But there are several components to producing a perfect meal: fresh ingredients, clean tools and skilled workers in the kitchen. A key element, however, is always timing.
If the dessert comes out before the salad, the meal is a mess.
Timing may be conspiring to make a mess out of the creation of a Department of Administration this year. With budget debate snarling progress in the Senate and not expected to be resolved until Wednesday at the earliest, restructuring may have gone cold.
The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee more than a month ago and has languished deep on the floor agenda since.
“It’s iffy at best at this point,” said Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens), who served on the committee that voted for the bill a month ago.
“There are a lot of other issues sitting on the agenda ahead of DoA (Department of Administration): the budget, tort reform and charter school tax breaks may still be percolating,” said Martin, who worried that if a bill creating the new uber-department did hit the floor, it would end up hitting a wall – conservatives who oppose any new government spending.
Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville), who serves alongside Martin on Judiciary, also sees the same clock ticking. He doesn’t think there’s time, especially because of the debate he’s sure tort reform will engender. As such, Malloy said next year might be the Department of Administration’s best hope.
Crystal ball: Looks like restructuring may become the next tax reform: fun to talk about, but hard to stomach. If Malloy and Martin are right, then the Department of Administration may be put in a to-go box for next January. But by that time, will the idea still be to the taste of legislators?
Bill Davis, editor of Statehouse Report, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the House and the Senate focused on floor debates to clear up end-of-the-session issues, such as the budget in the Senate, there will be few important committee meetings for members of either chamber next week. But watch for a bill on illegal immigration to make headway in House Judiciary meetings, perhaps in preparation for next year, the second of the two-year legislative session.
In the House:
- 3M. The full committee will meet Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. or an hour and a half after adjournment in 427 Blatt to discuss a host of recommendations from subcommittees. More.
Democrats in the Senate were unable this week to derail the passage of a long-debated measure to require photo identification of voters at the polls.
“We just didn’t have the votes,” said one Senate Democratic staffer. No surprise there.
But what caught some people’s eye, including some Democratic senators’ ire, was that no party member took to the rostrum to filibuster. Behind the scenes, Democrats are stating that there is more and more confidence that federal courts will slap down the soon-to-be signed law.
Budget debate drags on
The state Senate is still struggling to pass a state budget for the coming 2011-12 fiscal year with debate Tuesday to enter its fourth week. Contrast that with the House, which passed its budget in hours.
The Senate has prided itself on being the more contemplative body, but its faculties looked tested in the very first roll call vote on the very first subsection of the budget packet on Thursday when members weren’t sure exactly what they had voted for or against, and debate came to a halt for 20 minutes.
Of the 116 roll call votes needed to move the budget to a third reading, the Senate got through just 21 votes -- and then voted to adjourn until Tuesday, according to a Senate staffer. There are several potential reasons for the apparent foot-dragging. One may be that the new Senate rule and new state law for roll-call voting are beefier, making it harder for the budget to breeze through, which is something Senate brass had warned about. The other is the national anti-government/tea party sentiment coming home to roost -- and no one in the Senate wants to look to eager to give the government any money at all. If the Senate stays late on Tuesday, it may be able to report a budget bill as early as Wednesday evening.
Voter ID passes
Despite Democratic hope in the Senate that a lengthy budget debate would leave little time to do much else this legislative session, lawmakers there passed this week a bill that require voters to show photo identification before being allowed to cast their ballots.
Supporters of the measure said the bill would ensure fair and honest elections. Detractors have said the bill was a response to a black president’s political success in the South and is not needed due to the paucity of voter fraud cases in the state.
The bill, now on its way to Gov. Nikki Haley for signing, has been criticized by bipartisan groups like the state chapter of the League of Women Voters as being discriminatory.
League president Barbara Zia said that this “is a truly sad day for our state. The legislature voted in favor of legislation that masquerades as protection against voter impersonation. In reality, this bill is a means to discriminate against legal, eligible voters. While Governor Haley is looking to cut millions of dollars from education, child welfare and other programs South Carolina desperately needs, she should not be approving new government programs that will cost the state millions of dollars to implement under the guise of ‘fixing’ a problem that is non-existent.”
Amazonian tax break not dead
Supporters of a five-year sales tax break for Amazon in the House and Senate are poised to attach an amendment to another unnamed, popular bill in hopes of getting a second shot at landing a massive distribution center in the Columbia area. Critics says the sales tax exemption would give the Internet company an unfair advantage over existing retailers in the state.
But representatives in the Columbia area, including House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham (R-Cayce), are arguing that the tax moratorium is a good deal considering the long-term jobs and tax base the distribution center could provide.
GOP leaders need to chill out on Boeing matter
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherMAY 13, 2011 – Republicans frothing at the mouth about a union complaint against South Carolina’s new business BFF (Boeing) need to take a chill pill.
They’re overreacting and making more out of something that’s probably going to end up as a whole lot of nothing. What’s worrying is how their sideshow antics focus more on poisoning South Carolina’s generally negative view of unions than about the merits or demerits of a March union allegation that Boeing violated federal labor law in deciding to build a second assembly plant in North Charleston.
But if Boeing did everything right – as it vigorously says in its response to the machinists’ union’s charge – then it and South Carolina have nothing to worry about. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has said the state shouldn’t take the mess too seriously, according to media reports.
What no one seems to understand is that this somewhat routine allegation is now just making its way through a process that’s been used for a long time.
The union in Washington state, understandably upset that Boeing picked Charleston over Everett for the new assembly line, wants to protect its home turf. The union, just as much of a political beast as the GOP, then formally accused the company of moving to South Carolina as a retaliatory measure to avoid union strikes.
Of course, it didn’t help that Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said this last year to the Seattle Times about why South Carolina was picked: “It was that we can't afford to have a work stoppage every three years. And we can't afford to continue the rate of escalation of wages.”
So the National Labor Relations Board took a look at the union’s charge and figured it was serious enough that a judge needed to rule whether it was valid. Then the NLRB did what it often does next in the process – it issued a “complaint.” This is its civil version of a warrant that essentially says there seems to be probable cause for the whole process to move one step up the ladder.
And that’s where it is now – pending a judicial review.
Boeing’s top executive, Jim McNerney, this week said the S.C. selection was made based on objective criteria. In an article in The Wall Street Journal, he said Boeing worked for months to try to build the plant in Washington state, but couldn’t reach an agreement with unions: “Among the considerations we sought were a long-term ‘no-strike clause’ that would ensure production stability for our customers, and a wage and benefit growth trajectory that would help in our cost battle against Airbus and other state-sponsored competitors.”
Nobody likes to be invited into the judicial process. The union seems to think there’s some kind of wrongdoing. Boeing says there’s none – that it decided it was in the company’s best interest to diversify and offer a new line on the East Coast. They don’t agree. So a judge will decide.
But what’s really going on in the court of public opinion is just pure politics. Media-thirsty GOP politicians, including Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, are hyperventilating to demonize unions and make more of a national name for themselves.
New South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said the GOP attacks are ridiculous and stupid – and proceeded to enter the fray.
“This isn’t about the legalities of it [the union’s allegation],” he said. “It’s about the politics of it. Anytime Nikki Haley can get on a plane and go to Washington, she will. She’s more interested in being a national politician, a la Sarah Palin, than she is about helping the people of South Carolina.”
Folks, let the process work. Stop wailing with conspiracy theories that try to pin the mess on President Obama. Relax. More than likely, the allegation will be thrown out – just like Boeing says it will. Jets will be built here. South Carolina will grow an aeronautics cluster.
South Carolina’s leaders should be spending their time doing more than adding hot air to global warming. How about more work on improving education, reforming the tax structure and working on getting more jobs for the ones lost when Amazon vamoosed?
The Drummond Center
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring SC Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is The Drummond Center at Erskine College. The goal of the Drummond Center, named in honor of SC Sen. John Drummond, is to perpetuate statesmanship in South Carolina, while providing a new political science major for Erskine College. The center, hosted by Erskine College, seeks to promote civil discourse in a non-partisan spirit for the betterment of the South Carolina political community. Learn more: The Drummond Center.
Don’t make mistake on computer forensics law
By Steven M. Abrams
Special to Statehouse Report
MAY 13, 2011 -- Computers have become an integral part of our lives, storing sensitive personal data including banking and financial data, family photos and videos, and personal correspondence. The thought of sharing the information on our personal computers with a total stranger is not a prospect that any of us would likely be very comfortable with.
Computer forensics, also known as digital forensics, is the investigative specialty wherein evidence from computers and all manner of digital storage media is secured using well documented scientific methods for use in civil and criminal legal proceedings. Since digital data is extremely fragile, computer forensics investigators must possess highly specialized knowledge and skill, and specialized tools designed to secure the digital evidence without altering data on the original storage media.
In 2007, the South Carolina Attorney General opined that computer forensics was a distinct scientific endeavor recognized by the courts and that it was good public policy to require licensure of computer forensics practitioners who secure evidence for hire in this State. The AG also opined that it was not an illegal restraint of trade to require licensure of computer forensics investigators.
Currently under South Carolina law, computer forensics investigators must be licensed under the private investigations business license statutes found in SC Code of Laws Title 40, Chapter 18. Licensure assures that individuals who are allowed access to the sensitive information contained in personal computers have been thoroughly vetted and fingerprinted to assure they have no criminal history that would make them ill-suited for a job handling highly sensitive personal information and providing sworn testimony. Licensure and bonding assures that the State and the public have immediate recourse when a computer forensics investigator behaves in an unethical or unprofessional manner.
Requiring a PI license for computer forensics investigators has one major downside: there is nothing in the current licensing scheme that addresses the specialized knowledge and skills required to do a competent job securing digital evidence. A few years ago, SLED formed an ad hoc committee to address new license standards for computer forensics. At SLED’s request, I and my law partner drafted a proposed statute to address competency standards for computer forensics examiners. Several drafts of the proposed statute were revised based on feedback from committee members. In the end, we were never able to agree on language acceptable to all of the committee members. Apparently given the budget and staff cuts, SLED is no longer interested in regulating the computer forensics industry. Nevertheless, regulation is still needed.
Again this session, Sen. Nikki Setzler has sponsored a bill (S.580) that would exempt computer forensics investigators from licensure, allowing anyone at all to engage in computer forensics for hire in South Carolina without no requirements for criminal background checks or bonding, and no safeguards for the legal community or the public.
While I don’t support this wholesale deregulation of computer forensics, this might be an opening to create a new license that specifically addresses the skills and knowledge required by computer forensics investigators and also addresses the safeguards required to assure the public that the licensees are not criminals and have some obligation to the state to conform their businesses to acceptable professional standards. Since SLED is unwilling or unable to undertake the licensure of computer forensics examiners, this role may be better served by shifting this responsibility and the revenue raised from license fees to another agency. However because the effect on privacy will be dramatic if criminals or people without proper training are allowed to secure digital evidence, it would be foolish to exempt computer forensics investigators from the current licensure required under the PI Business statutes before instituting a new license scheme for the profession.
Steven M. Abrams is a Mount Pleasant lawyer who concentrates his practice in the area of computer forensics and electronic discovery.
Racism knows no bounds
To Statehouse Report:
Fine article ["My, how things have changed"] and I look forward to more. I enjoyed our brief discussion recently on the same subject, and you know that I covered the same territory first in the South as a boy growing up, and then in the North. It caused me to realize that racism knows no geographical boundaries.
-- Ross Lenhart, Pawleys Island
Drop us a line: We encourage you to share your opinions. Letters to the editor are published weekly. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. We generally publish all comments about South Carolina politics or policy issues, unless they are libelous or unnecessarily inflammatory. One submission is allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Comments are limited to 250 words or less. Please include your name and contact information.
From Martin to tax breaks and voter I.D.
‘Not Mark’ Martin. While Statehouse Report probably isn’t your home for NASCAR coverage, it is pretty neat to know that the aerodynamics firm owned by Sen. Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg) has consulted on most, if not all, of the stock cars racing around ovals you see on television on any given weekend.
Property tax. The House this week passed a bill that would allow just-sold homes to retain their assessed value for taxation purposes, instead of the potentially higher sales price, until their county reassessed all property values. The downside could be another chunk taken out of local government wallets. The upside may be identical homes side-by-side won’t be paying different tax bills. It heads next to the Senate, where it has died before. More.
Sawyer out. Former Sanfordite Joel Sawyer this week was let go as executive director of the S.C. Republican Party in the wake of the election of a new state party chairman, despite the GOP wiping Democrats out of every statewide office and taking over a U.S. Congressional seat. Odd. More.
Voter I.D. Take that, Voting Rights Act! More.
Tax breaks. Resurgent state tax surpluses will likely go for business tax breaks, instead of better funding education, health care, care for the elderly, the mentally ill, etc. More.