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ISSUE 12.09
Mar. 01, 2013

RECENT ISSUES:
12/04 | 11/27 | 11/20 | 11/13

Index

News :
Solons debate early voting options
Legislative Agenda :
From DUIs to budgets
Radar Screen :
Treasurer ain't done!
Palmetto Politics :
The $163 million question
Commentary :
Time to connect dots on mental health funding
Spotlight :
Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology
My Turn :
National stock transfer tax would offset deficits
Feedback :
Start early and finish the job
Scorecard :
Up for Sellers, down for sequestration
Stegelin :
Voting has changed
Number of the Week :
$25.3 billion
Megaphone :
But who's counting, Mr. Treasurer?
Tally Sheet :
On furlough
Encyclopedia :
The South Carolina Review

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

$25.3 billion

That’s the record amount of exports that made its way through South Carolina and its ports in 2012, according to data from a U.S. Department of Commerce report. It represented a 2.23 percent increase over the previous year. More.

MEGAPHONE

But who's counting, Mr. Treasurer?

“WHEREAS, the South Carolina State Treasurer falsely stated …”

-- This is how nearly every point (17 to be exact) begins in a public censure of Treasurer Curtis Loftis by the state Retirement System Investment Commission this week. More.

TALLY SHEET

On furlough

We're taking the week off with Tally Sheet so that we can attend the Riley Institute's One South Carolina conference.  We'll add this week's bills here next week.
 
In the meantime, if you need to find any legislation now, please use the links below:

ENCYCLOPEDIA

The South Carolina Review

The South Carolina Review is a literary miscellany featuring short fiction, poetry, critical essays, interviews, and book reviews. Founded at Furman University in 1968, the Review was edited and published there until June 1973, when it moved to Clemson University under the leadership of Richard J. Calhoun, who became editor.

Other members of Clemson's English department followed him as editor, and selected English department faculty members there served as advisers. For more than three decades The South Carolina Review had maintained its role as a vehicle for fiction writers and poets launching their careers, for critics and scholars desiring to share their insights and discoveries, and for reviewers intent on assessing the achievements of creative writers and outspoken scholars.

Among authors whose stories, poems, and letters have appeared in The South Carolina Review are Joyce Carol Oates, Fred Chappell, Mark Steadman, and Thomas Wolfe. Critical essays and reviews have ranged widely, from such grammatical issues as the spelling of alright / all right to the legacies of Robert Frost and James Dickey. In between, scholarly essays have examined such writers as Samuel Beckett, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Gilmore Simms, and John Milton.

Special issues dedicated to single authors represent the special efforts of the South Carolina Review to promote the exchange of ideas and discoveries. Since its move to Clemson, the magazine has devoted issues to James Dickey, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, and Virginia Woolf. Entering the new millennium, a special issue, Ireland in the Arts and Humanities, signaled the journal's aspiration to embrace both national and international literature. Yet the focus of the magazine remains southern and American literature.

Excerpted from the entry by John L. Idol Jr. To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)

PALMETTO PRIORITIES

Palmetto Priorities Statehouse Report encourages state leaders to develop and implement Palmetto Priorities involving several issues to make the state better a better place. Click the link to learn more about our suggestions for bipartisan policy objectives.

Here is a summary of our Palmetto Priorities:

CORRECTIONS: Reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2020.

EDUCATION: Cut the state's dropout rate in half by 2020.

ELECTIONS: Increase voter registration to 75 percent by 2015.

ENVIRONMENT: Adopt a state energy policy that requires energy producers to generate 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

ETHICS: Overhaul state ethics laws.

HEALTH CARE: Ensure affordable and accessible health care.

JOBS: Develop a Cabinet-level post to add, retain 10,000 small business jobs per year.

POLITICS: Have a vigorous two- or multi-party political system of governance.

ROADS: Strengthen all bridges and upgrade state roads by 2015.

SAFETY: Cut the state's violent crime rate by one-third by 2016.

TAX REFORM: Remove outdated special interest sales tax exemptions as part of an overall reform of the state's tax structure to be completed by 2014.

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News

Solons debate early voting options

By Bill Davis, senior editor

MARCH 1, 2013 -- Who gets to vote in South Carolina may soon depend on when they are allowed to vote, thanks to a policy skirmish in the House and Senate, where the introduction of “early voting” is being debated.

Framing the debate is the U.S. Supreme Court’s current tackling of the question of whether portions of the federal Voting Rights Act -- and the thorny issue of several Southern states having to pre-clear election changes with the U.S. Department of Justice -- has outlived its usefulness.

One in five voters

Currently, South Carolina allows voters to apply for absentee ballots. That allows them to vote before elections as long as they provide a reasonable excuse and then mail in their ballot.

According to the S.C. Election Commission, roughly 395,000 voters filed absentee ballots in the 2012 General Election.

That’s roughly one in seven of the nearly 2.9 million eligible voters in the state. And considering that only 1.9 million voters cast ballots in the recent presidential election, then one-fifth of actual voters in the state filed absentee ballots last November.

So perhaps it is no wonder that voters want to get their ballots counted early, considering the long lines that typified the 2008 presidential election and last year’s “ballotgate” snafu that kicked hundreds of candidates from various parties from statewide ballots and races.

Voting as a crime

But according to state Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), the all too common act of cooking up an excuse for convenience sake was, in his words, “voter fraud.”

“And every time someone offers a false reason to file an absentee ballot, a crime is being committed,” said Clemmons, who added that the House GOP Caucus holds that “Election Day should be Election Day – it’s sacrosanct.”

Clemmons is fighting against a host of Democratic-backed House bills that seek to create an expanded time for regular voting of one month before the formal election day. The thought is that voters could present themselves at polling places throughout the state, cast their votes and decrease lines on the formal election day.

Clemmons wants to set aside a weeklong window that opens 10 days before the election to allow voters to show up in person at polling places. He then wants to close early voting on the Saturday before the Tuesday election. The window would be in addition to absentee voting.

Defining vote

But to hear House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) tell it, Clemmons is trying to game the system to exclude some minority voters.

 “Alan Clemmons is the definition of why the Voting Rights Act is needed,” said Rutherford, also a lawyer.

Policy-wise, Rutherford said the Democratic plan does nothing but bring more people into the democratic process and elections.

“People have to go to work, and some of them can’t get off work to vote,” said Rutherford. Clemmons’ real problem with early voting, according to Rutherford, is that it would allow more African Americans to vote in elections.

Calling the GOP’s weeklong window “absolutely silly,” Rutherford said that when Clemmons championed voter identification in the House in recent years, he could have brought forward a pre-cleared plan from Georgia. But instead, Clemmons fought for a different, more restrictive version that Rutherford described as seeming to disenfranchise black voters.   That version eventually passed and is law. 

“We’re not stupid,” Rutherford said.

Clemmons’ concerns for more transparent and accountable election results were suspect, according to Rutherford, who claimed that the current system of mail-in absentee ballots were the least secure form of voting.  Clemmons could not be reached to respond.

National caucus

Rutherford’s sallies against Clemmons echoed national criticism of voter I.D., as only becoming a Republican issue after the national record turnout of black voters in the 2008 General Election when Barack Obama became the nation’s first minority president.

Reviewing state Election Commission data, absentee voting doubled in the 2008 election compared to four years prior. Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said his agency is in favor of adding early voting to the mix, as it would allow its workers to spread out the work.

Limiting voting to one day, according to Whitmire,  is like the one-day logistical nightmare usually reserved for Santa Claus.

In the Senate, a similar Democratic bill has already cleared the Judiciary Committee and is sitting on that chamber’s contested agenda, waiting for other issues to be handled before being discussed on the floor, which could happen as early as next week.

In the Senate

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Martin (R-Pickens) said he favored the weeklong window, too. He said that a month of early voting only benefited political players who were looking to game the system with illegal get-out-the-vote tactics like “bussing-in” voters.

Martin also said the criticism that the weeklong window wouldn’t bring more voters to the polls is wrong and that efforts like voter I.D. have not been shown to suppress any voting groups, minority or otherwise.

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler (D-W. Columbia) said fears of “bussing-in” sounded less like a policy concern “and more like an excuse not to pass early voting.”

Setzler said early voting had been held up in the Senate because the Republican Caucus had been trying to “leverage nullification bills for early voting’s spot on the agenda -- and that’s something [the Democratic Caucus] isn’t going to do.”

Setzler said that elections were “sacrosanct,” not just Election Day.       

Crystal ball: Rutherford’s ad hominem attacks on Clemmons aside, it looks more likely than ever that legislators will compromise on some kind of early voting beyond the current use of absentee voting as a replacement.

Bill Davis is editor of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:  billdavis@statehousereport.com. Recent news stories include:

Legislative Agenda

From DUIs to budgets

In the Senate, look for debate to continue for the first part of next week regarding automobile ignition systems that require DUI violators to blow into them to start the car, and then for early voting to hit the floor by Thursday, at the latest.

In the House, budget proposals will hit representatives’ desks on Tuesday, with the following Monday beginning floor debate of the budget package that has emerged from Ways and Means, which includes $6.9 billion in General Fund spending.   Also on tap:

  • House Ways and Means. The local government funding ad hoc study committee will meet Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in 521 Blatt to discuss legislative proposals. Agenda.

  • Senate Judiciary. A public hearing will be held Monday, March 4 at 7 p.m. in York Technical College in Rock Hill for citizens to weigh in on a bill that would further define their rights and privileges to carry concealed weapons. Agenda.

  • Senate Finance. Budget hearings will begin in the Senate next week, with state agencies and offices presenting their case for funding. For a full list, go here

  • Senate Education. The K-12 subcommittee will meet Wednesday at 11 a.m. in 209 Gressette to discuss a host of bills, including one that would address state high school sports. Agenda.

  • Senate Medical Affairs. A subcommittee will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. in 308 Gressette to hear testimony from Department of Health and Human Services head Tony Keck on the federal Affordable Care Act. Agenda.

  • Senate Judiciary. A subcommittee will meet Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in 105 Gressette to discuss four different ethics reform bills. Agenda.
Radar Screen

Treasurer ain't done!

Promises by state Treasurer Curtis Loftis to shake things up put a scare into the legislature’s Old Guard when he was elected. This week, the state’s pension fund commission censured the state’s treasurer saying he had engaged in “false, misleading and deceitful rhetoric” concerning the commission and the status of its pension fund. Instead of reining in Loftis, it has spurred him on. He now considers the censure a compliment and has vowed to continue fighting. You know the old line, “If you mess with a bull, you’ll get the horns”? Well, state Retirement System Investment Commission, here come the horns!

Palmetto Politics

The $163 million question

Thanks to a recent increase in tax collection estimates for the coming fiscal year, there will be more money to fight over in the coming state budget debates.

Word out of the House, via Ways and Means Chair Brian White (R-Anderson), is that the lion’s share, approximately $60 million, has been put toward road and infrastructure improvements in one-time, non-recurring funding. This week, the House also approved a bill that would dedicate car sales taxes for roads projects. The rest of the money in the Ways and Mean’s budget, hitting representatives’ desks on Tuesday, will be split among cyber security and other line items.

In the Senate, look for extra to be split between K-12 education coffers and roads projects, according to sources. Gov. Nikki Haley has called for the biggest chunk of the money to be spent on roads.

Here we go … again

The State Law Enforcement Division confirmed this week that its agents are investigating allegations that one of the most powerful state legislators, House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston), misused hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign funds.

The allegations stemmed from the head of the influential S.C. Policy Council, Ashley Landess. Harrell has maintained his claim that the allegations were baseless personal attack from Landess, who has also alleged that Harrell had used his office to benefit his medical repackaging company.

If the seemingly never-ending attacks on Gov. Nikki Haley’s ethics are any barometer, don’t look for one investigation or one report on Harrell’s alleged misdeeds to suffice.

Questioning Fair’s (meth)od

In an attempt to help curve the production, distribution and impact of crystal methamphetamine, state Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville) introduced a bill this week that would require a prescription for any medication that contained pseudoephedrine. 

The chemical, one of the building blocks for creating crystal meth, is available in a variety of non-prescription medications. But distribution is limited by law because people who want it have to ask a pharmacist to get it from a secure location.  

Critics contend Fair’s bill goes too  far by punishing families with sick kids instead of criminals, who were getting the medication illicitly in the first place. Other critics contend that everything would be just fine if only those darned black helicopters stopped broadcasting thoughts into their brains, causing them to deconstruct their car’s engine in hopes of finally catching that mouse. ;)

Commentary

Time to connect dots on mental health funding

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

MARCH 1, 2013 -- The new talking point for folks who don’t want more gun control is that the government -- yes, the government they often complain about -- needs to do more to help the mentally ill.

Well, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. For 40 years, state governments have devastated state mental health facilities and dumped people on communities for treatment. While a lot of it made sense with improved drug therapies and other assistance, state governments often didn’t add appropriate funding to provide enough community-based treatment to keep people from falling through the cracks.

South Carolina, of course, is one of the worst cases. During the years of the Great Recession, 2008-2012, our leaders cut a larger percentage of general fund dollars for mental health than any other state. According to the National Association of Mental Health, South Carolina legislators cut the state’s share of funding from $187.3 million to $113.7 million -- a 39.3 percent cut. 

Back in 1970, community mental health centers treated some 14,000 patients across the state. By 1989, the number tripled. Today, some 80,000 people get mental health treatment in 17 community health centers and clinics, according to the state Department of Mental Health (DMH).

During the same time span, the state closed its big mental hospitals. Around 1970, some 5,800 people were in state-run mental facilities. The number dropped to 4,114 by 1976 and 2,800 by 1990. Today, some 1,400 people are in state hospitals. On any given Monday, there’s a waiting list of 100 people who need help, according to DMH Deputy Director Mark Binkley.

But here’s something that keeps some people up at night: About half of the 2,800 patients admitted annually to state mental facilities now aren’t part of a known population of people with mental health challenges. Those who show up in emergency rooms or at state facilities often have substance abuse problems, which brings them to the attention of law enforcement authorities. 

So those who are getting help might be the tip of the iceberg. What about others who suffer quietly at home with their families or who don’t get in trouble with the law? Binkley estimated about three times the number of people who are not known to officials -- up to 4,500 people across the state -- may need treatment. But that’s a guess. Since deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities over four decades, there’s really no clear number of South Carolinians who need treatment but aren’t getting it.

It’s important to keep from demonizing those with mental health issues. But because people throughout our communities aren’t getting the treatment they need, they pose a risk to the general population. Like the Newtown killer. And like the South Carolina woman who recently stood outside Ashley Hall school in Charleston, but couldn’t get her loaded pistol to work.

Now the very people who have blathered on about the need to cut evil government want the state to do more. They don’t want the government to do anything about their guns, but they want something done about people who pose a risk. They want more cops in schools (a big cost) or more money spent on mental health funding. 

So let’s be clear about a lesson adults should have learned as children: Acts have consequences. All of that festering hubris about the need to cut government to the bone to score political points has had a big consequence -- our streets are less safe and people with mental illness aren’t getting the treatment they need. Thanks a lot.

Last year, state legislators started restoring draconian mental health cuts with an extra $20 million. A similar amount is expected in the coming year. But much more is needed to ensure more beds are available for seriously ill people and more community treatment options exist to keep up with the state’s mental health needs as more people move here. 

There’s not a magic pot of money to fix our problems. Only we can address our challenges. Either we pay a comparatively small amount now through taxes and restore funding for the state Department of Mental Health. Or we can suffer the consequences and face the horrible possibility of paying later with a South Carolina tragedy.

Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse ReportYou can reach Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Spotlight

Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost.  In today's issue, we heartily welcome a new underwriter, the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology, which is the Southeast’s premier technical service provider and training facility for industry. SiMT’s mission is to provide customers with strategic training and manufacturing technology solutions that maximize workforce productivity in advanced manufacturing environments. SiMT’s state-of-the-art facilities are located in Florence, S.C., on a 146-acre campus adjacent to Florence-Darlington Technical College.
My Turn

National stock transfer tax would offset deficits

By Elliott Brack
Republished with permission

MARCH 1, 2013 -- Ever since mankind organized himself into governments, there's been a need to pay for the services that governments provide. How to tax and what to tax has been, and will continue to be, a main topic of conversation.


Brack

You may remember prior to when our government was being formed, there was a revolt against the "tea tax" that the British government sought to enforce. Yes, it was "Indians" who started that rebellion in the Boston Harbor.

An early incident in this country centered around imposing the federal excise tax on whiskey.

Here in Georgia, recently the Legislature imposed a "bed tax" on hospitals.

Finding ways to tax is always on the table, and always a risky business for the politicians. Therefore, we often get bad taxing methods. Lots of commerce goes untaxed, often with key lobbyists flexing their muscles. It gets you to thinking about the fairness of it all.

Now comes an idea to tax an industry that is not taxed, a system which could raise a lot of money, and yet it would be a tax many people would never feel. That idea is to tax stock market transactions with a small federal levy that could go a long way to getting our country out of its deficit.

Anticipated being proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, both Democrats, is to levy a tax of three basis points (0.03 or three hundredth of a percentage point) on most stock market transactions. That's three cents on each $100 traded. It would apply to all stock market trades, except not on initial public offerings, nor on bonds, nor initial investments and withdrawals from tax-protected accounts, such as 401k savings. The revenue would be collected at the time of sale by the stock market.

How much would it raise? A whopping $35.2 BILLION a year!

The idea is being floated here, but is also being considered in Europe, where 11 countries are moving forward with similar plans That includes the key countries of Germany and France and in England, where it is called a "Robin Hood tax," or a Tobin tax, named for James Tobin, an economist who first proposed the idea.

There will be arguments against it, as there are on any new tax. But it moves toward collecting a tax on an industry that generally is not taxed, yet is central to commerce and thrives with hordes of profits. It also can discourage day-traders and others into heavy trading.

As a comparison, buy a new car, and you're heavily taxed. Spend $20,000 for that car, and the sales tax is $1,200 (six percent in Gwinnett.) You really pay a minimum of $21,200 for the vehicle (plus your tag fee.) Or go to any retail store, say a clothing store, and spend $400, and you end up paying $424.

But buy $10,000 in stock in the Southern Company, or General Electric, Agco, Rock-Tenn, or any shares in any company, and there is no transaction tax. Under the Harkin-DeFazio plan, your tax on buying $10,000 in stock would be $3. That sounds small. But when you add up the many stock transfers across the nation, it comes to the enormous $35.2 billion a year.

Many, many Americans, that is those not in the stock market, would never pay this tax. It "taxes the rich" in one way of thinking, though not at a very high level.

Keep listening. You should be hearing more about this new thought on taxation, both in this country, and in Europe.

Elliott Brack is editor and publisher of sister publication GwinnettForum.com, which is based in northeast metro Atlanta.

Feedback

Start early and finish the job

To the editor:

I am sending this with the subject line PK-16 as the amount of learning in our schools is not restricted to PK-12, but to the college kids, as well, who we have to remediate many upon entering their freshman year of college. Yes, we have some very bright ones, but the majority are still lagging behind in math and reading.

Zais and Ragley [News: "Playing catch up," Feb. 15] should not even be in the K-12 world. Zais is a politician who just happened to have “R” next to his name in the voting booth. He does not believe in four-year-old kindergarten nor does he believe in teacher professional development. He has mostly eliminated positions in his department in these areas.

So many children in S.C. start kindergarten two or three years behind. It is hard to believe this in such a world that is bombarded with print materials and TV. So many of our homes do not have parents who promote learning through reading and math. Parents are working two or three jobs and the kids are left with poorly prepared grandparents or just babysitting companies for care.

A major concern with some Head Start programs and some four-year-old programs, is the homes the kids come from are so distressed that the daytime learning is not supported at home and the kids only learn sporadically.

Kindergarten teachers in one year can barely get these kids up to a five-year-old level. In some cases, they can, but mostly, they cannot. Most of these kids can never catch up. They still get little support from home (remember, their parents came through the same education system as did their grandparents). Third grade teachers complain, middle school teachers really complain and high school teachers bitch that their students can't read and are discipline problems.

It all starts when a child is 3 and 4 years old. Most of the folks reading this had parents or grandparents that could read, do math and had great love for their children. They valued education and this virtue was passed on to them. It is not the case in most of the homes in rural and urban S.C.

However, our Legislature, the Department of Education, our courts and especially our governor just will not figure this out. If someone sat them down and maybe explained this to them like I am, they would nod yes, but as Republicans in S.C., they are not going to get off the dime.

-- Bob Noe, Columbia, S.C.

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Scorecard

Up for Sellers, down for sequestration

Sellers. State Rep. Bakari Sellers echoed ballyhooed Trenton, N.J., mayor Corey Booker recently, when he challenged Gov. Nikki Haley and DSS head Lillian Koller to join him in living off food stamps for a week while still eating a healthy diet. Yes, it’s pure theater, but it’s fun. More. 

Education. The House budget plan calls for an $175 million infusion into state public schools. Know what sounds better? Another $175 million, and so on, until the state finally meets its mandated per-pupil funding amounts! More.

Sequester. No one knows for sure what federal sequestration of funds will do to South Carolina, except it ain’t gonna be good.

Mental health. Ways and Means told the cash-strapped cabinet agency to get a loan to go along with its budget plans. Ouch. Are they nuts? More.

Stegelin

Voting has changed


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Senior Editor: Bill Davis
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© 2002 - 2018 , Statehouse Report LLC. Statehouse Report is published every Friday by Statehouse Report LLC, PO Box 22261, Charleston, SC 29413.
Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with this interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Republication is not allowed. For additional information about Statehouse Report, including information on underwriting, go to http://www.statehousereport.com/.