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ISSUE 12.13
Mar. 29, 2013

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

Index

News :
Statehouse struggles, literally, with its direction
Legislative Agenda :
Deadline is Sunday to protect yourself
Radar Screen :
Ready for liftoff
Palmetto Politics :
Interesting approach
Commentary :
Where there is no vision, the people perish
Spotlight :
The South Carolina Education Association
My Turn :
NPLEx is right solution in battle against meth
Feedback :
Enjoyed article on Policy Council
Scorecard :
Up on education, down for Wilson
Stegelin :
This is for you
Megaphone :
Food as a political weapon
Tally Sheet :
No new bills
Encyclopedia :
Birds and waterfowl in South Carolina

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NUMBER OF THE WEEK

$50 million

That’s the size of a check state Treasurer Curtis Loftis is refusing to sign off on. It is meant to go to a company that is helping manage the state’s $26 billion retirement fund.  Critics say Loftis is grandstanding. Supporters say he’s holding the retirement commission’s collective feet to the fire for allegedly overpaying on management fees. More.

MEGAPHONE

Food as a political weapon

“I don’t know if it’s an education that eggs are better than Coke, but we’re subsidizing obesity and that’s my issue. They can buy Coke with their money.”

-- DHEC head Catherine Templeton, whose agency doesn’t administer food stamp programs, supporting a plan championed by her boss, Gov. Nikki Haley, to limit what state recipients can purchase with state-supported stamps. More.

TALLY SHEET

No new bills

With the Senate and House on furlough this week, there were no bills introduced in the General Assembly.  You can, however, use the links below to find any bill that has been introduced this session:

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Birds and waterfowl in South Carolina

Waterfowl abound in the waterways and marshes of the coastal plain, among them the pied-billed grebe; common loon; double-crested cormorant; anhinga; American and least bitterns; great and snowy egrets; little blue and tricolor herons; black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons; white ibis; glossy ibis; wood stork; green-winged teal; black duck; northern pintail; northern shoveler; gadwall; canvasback; black scoter; and hooded merganser.


Great egret
Photo by Michael Kaynard.

Other avian species include the black vulture; swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites; bald eagle; black rail; clapper rail; purple gallinule; semipalmated plover; American avocet; willet; marbled godwit; semipalmated and least sandpipers; laughing gull; Caspian, royal, sandwich, and least terns; black skimmer; ground dove; yellow-bellied sapsucker; red-cockaded and pileated woodpeckers; marsh wren; blue-gray gnatcatcher; black-throated green warbler; prothonotary warbler; painted bunting; Bachman's, seaside, and song sparrows; bobolink; and the boat-tailed grackle. Along the coast, the brown pelican is a familiar sight.

More than one hundred species of birds are found throughout the state either as permanent residents or seasonal migrants. Among them are the great blue heron; wood duck; blue-winged teal; ring-necked duck; bufflehead; turkey vulture; osprey; red-shouldered hawk; American kestrel; peregrine falcon; northern bobwhite; American coot; Wilson's plover; upland sandpiper; Hudsonian godwit; common snipe; American woodcock; herring gull; mourning dove; yellow-billed cuckoo; barn, screech, great horned, and barred owls; chuck-will's-widow; ruby-throated hummingbird; red-headed woodpecker; downy woodpecker; northern flicker; great crested and scissor-tailed flycatchers;

More: purple martin; bank and barn swallows; blue jay; American crow; Carolina chickadee; white-breasted nuthatch; Carolina wren; golden-crowned kinglet; eastern bluebird; wood thrush; American robin; gray catbird; northern mockingbird; brown thrasher; loggerhead shrike; white-eyed vireo; magnolia, hooded, and yellow-throated warblers; common yellowthroat; yellow-breasted chat; northern cardinal; blue grosbeak; indigo bunting; rufous-sided towhee; field, savannah, and house sparrows; red-winged blackbird; eastern meadowlark; brown-headed cowbird; orchard oriole; and American goldfinch.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Albert E. Sanders. 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

Statehouse struggles, literally, with its direction

By Bill Davis, senior editor

MARCH 29, 2013 -- There seems to be no end to the negative literary references describing this year’s legislative session, as it crossed the halfway mark this week.

Phil Bailey, political director for the S.C. Senate Democratic Caucus, compared the work done so far this year to the hit sitcom “Seinfeld.”

“It’s another episode about nothing,” said Bailey.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) likened this year’s progress to a Shakespearean quote: “Much ado about nothing.”

And Scott Huffmon, the Winthrop University political scientist in charge of that school’s influential polling center, said the 2013 legislative session shows how “everyone used to do nothing out of fear; now they’re doing everything out of symbolism.”

What gives? Why are observers so critical, considering how, on the surface at least, everything seems to be accelerating?

House has been busy, again

Already this year, Greg Foster, communications director for House Speaker Bobby Harrell, pointed out that House members have passed bills that addressed:

  • Election snafus in last year’s election that kicked more than 200 candidates off ballots across the state.
  • Shortening the length of the legislative session.
  • Restructuring.
  • Closing the data breach at Revenue last year.
  • And funding roads projects without affecting school funding.

“If anything, if this year is a ‘Seinfeld’ episode, then it’s a re-run, because of the number of bills we’ve passed over and over in past years” finally getting traction in the Senate, said Foster, referring to the 10 times the House has passed a session-shortening bills and the four times it has passed bills creating a Department of Administration, which would restructure much of state government.

“This has been one of the most cordial years in recent history,” said Foster, pointing to the days, not weeks, it took to create a budget package in the House chock full of K-12 funding and devoid of rancor.

Senate suddenly speedy

Usually maligned for moving with the slowness of “Out of Africa” instead of Usain Bolt’s speed, the Senate so far this year has been more hare than tortoise. Last year, it took so long -- five weeks -- to craft a bill to create a Department of Administration that the bill died when it ran out of time on the last day of that session.

This year, the Senate knocked it out in three days, or one legislative week. The reason, in part, that the Senate joined the House this and next week on furlough, was because it had passed far more bills at the halfway point than it had in recent years.

Like the House, the Senate has passed its own ballot-gate bill, as well as one addressing the computer hacking at the Department Revenue, as well as one allowing early voting.

So, why isn’t everyone happy?

Vroom-vroom

Rutherford likes going fast, judging by the array of sports cars that can be found in his Statehouse parking spot.

But, sounding more like former Senate maven and current Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, too much is getting passed that has little consequence or hope of surviving the legislative process. McConnell always joked that the House was a racetrack where anything could get passed.

Rutherford said serious issues are getting glossed over in the House’s haste, “like passing a budget in two days that didn’t include Medicaid expansion.”

In fact, the House passed a budget that would increase state health care spending by some $80 million, but skirted taking part in health care expansion favored under Obamacare reforms.

Instead of weightier issues, both chambers have seen a parade of “symbolic” bills dealing with relative non-issues, like ones that would allow guns in bars and bills that would “nullify” the federal government’s power in state matters, critics and observers have said.

“It’s totally frustrating, extremely frustrating,” said Rutherford, who said that his caucus members would help speed along early voting efforts in that chamber if it weren’t for the efforts to one Republican to then “sabotage” absentee voting laws already on the books.

As a result of his frustration, Rutherford said he is agreeable to shortening the session if “nothing of substance” continues to not be accomplished.

Moving forward … maybe

Now the question becomes what can still be done this year to silence the critics, mostly Democratic, as next year will be an election year in the House, making the likelihood of passing major bills less likely due to politics.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Nikki Setzler (D-W. Columbia) has introduced a bill that would bond out a half-billion dollars in debt to cover half of the roads projects and maintenance issues identified as being needed by Transportation.

The problem (on top of Democrats being the minority in the legislature) is there hasn’t been a bond issued of this kind since Gov. Jim Hodges’ administration in the late 1990s.

Ethics reform, one of the pre-session buzzwords, continues to languish in Senate committees, even though several bills have been proffered by Ethics Committee chair Wes Hayes (R-Rock Hill). Conventional wisdom has it that they probably won’t hit the floor there until next year -- perfect timing for an election-year topic in the House.

In the House this year, Medicaid continues to be the fool’s gold issue among Democrats. Even though there appears to be little political will among Republican moderates in the Senate to mirror the efforts of House Democrats to challenge an assured gubernatorial veto, leading Democrats hope that olive branches being offered between Republican-led states like Arkansas and federal health care reform waivers will reopen the issue on the floor.

Calls from both chambers for K-12 education reform will fall on deaf ears as the time draws nearer for the state Supreme Court to rule on a lawsuit dealing with the “adequacy” of public education and the possible creation of a statewide K-4 program.

Crystal ball: If political scientist Huffmon is right, then, with the aid of speedy social media, South Carolina’s legislature has, indeed, entered into “full-time” reelection mode. That will mean more pontificating and less policy-making in the Statehouse. Populist positions will take preeminence. That’s not good. The second half of this session may point which direction the General Assembly will take in coming years: sound policy making … or down a path of sound and fury.

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

Legislative Agenda

Deadline is Sunday to protect yourself

With the House and Senate’s members furloughed for a second week, there are little statewide meetings of major importance this coming week. But, this Sunday will be the deadline for signing up for the state’s identity theft protection program, brought on by the massive hacking incident at the state Department of Revenue last year. Read this PDF for more.

Radar Screen

Ready for liftoff

Word out of the Statehouse this week was not to expect a major dust-up between the House and the Senate over the budget later in coming weeks. About the only quibble will be the House plan to use sales taxes derived from auto sales to benefit roads projects. Historically, sales taxes have been used in South Carolina to benefit public education. But this likely won’t be a major problem, since the House plan also calls for a percentage of car sales tax money to continue to go to education.

Palmetto Politics

Interesting approach

State Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Bonneau) has come up with an interesting approach in a bill filed this year that could create common ground for opponents and supporters of school vouchers.

In January, Grooms filed a bill, S. 279, a measure that would allow for families who send their offspring with special needs to independent or private schools to receive a tax credit if local public schools didn’t offer suitable programs.

There is subtlety to Grooms’ bill not normally seen in most thinly-veiled voucher bills, in that parents would have to make good-faith efforts to find their challenged kids a spot in public schools. And the bill includes a provision that would allow that kid entrance to a suitable public school in a neighboring district. It’s sort of open enrollment and vouchers rolled up into one bill.

The bill also expanded those who qualified to children in free and reduced lunch programs. So, it could appeal to advocacy groups that deal with poverty and special needs.  

The bill seems to skirt the direct frontal assault of past voucher efforts, while giving Democrats and education-friendly moderate Republicans a place to work from without isolating themselves from their base voters.

Grooms’ bill seems to mirror education reform efforts Jeb Bush instituted while governor of Florida, the gold standard currently among Republican education reform circles. One supporter of such efforts: S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, who is championing implementation of other Bush reforms here.

The bill, now in the Senate Finance Committee, could be debated this year.

Commentary

Where there is no vision, the people perish

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

MARCH 29, 2013 -- A psychiatrist would have a field day if the state of South Carolina were to get on a couch for a diagnosis.  

Maybe state government and her leaders have Cluster A disorders, which according to the American Psychiatric Association include odd or eccentric behaviors such as the fear of social relation:

  • Paranoia, or irrational suspicions and mistrust of others, perhaps such as the state’s fear that more federal government money to expand Medicaid to help hundreds of thousands of poor South Carolinians get health care is a bad thing.

  • Schizoid personality disorder, which involves the lack of interest in social relationships or sharing time with others. Maybe this would explain the state’s seemingly continuing desire to secede based on an overzealous interpretation of the notion of individual liberty.

  • Schizotypal personality disorder, which is behavior or thinking that is just odd, such as lawmakers’ proposals to allow people to carry concealed guns in schools, college campuses or, of all things, bars.

Perhaps, though, the state could better be classified as having Cluster B disorders for dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior:

  • Antisocial disorder, a diagnosis that features disregard for the rights of others and lack of empathy. Although often associated with criminals, might it not also be associated with politicians who want to tell people on food stamps what they can and can’t eat?

  • Borderline personality disorder, which often is defined by thinking about things as one way or the other. In the legislature, this might be characterized by increasing partisanship and how compromise -- thinking about alternatives in the middle -- seems to be dying.

  • Histrionic personality disorder, which often appears as attention-seeking behavior and exaggeration. There are a few politicians who you can probably think of that fit in here.

  • Narcissistic disorder, defined as those who have a pattern of grandiose behavior, lack of empathy and need to be admired. There’s no lack of candidates here either.

Other disorders that might be part of the state’s diagnosis include obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (abortion politics) and passive-aggressive personality disorder (refusal to deal with growing education funding problems despite generations being lost). Regardless, whatever is wrong with South Carolina may take years of therapy.

More than anything, the Palmetto State seems to be going through an identity crisis.  Does it want to be an overzealous nanny and tell people what they can do (what to eat on food stamps) or can’t do (get access to health care through Medicaid expansion)? Or does it want to be a Petri dish of government experimentation, such as when rich guys like Howard Rich pump in gazillions of dollars to fuel voucher efforts or U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham talks about how he can sell immigration reform anywhere if he can sell it in South Carolina?

Or does South Carolina want to be a bastion of individual liberty where libertarian philosophy galvanizes what government does to the point of absurdity, such as all of the crazy efforts to try to nullify what the federal government is doing or continue to craft laws to protect gun rights -- even though nobody is really talking about taking away the guns that people have now?

When you think about South Carolina from the perspective of a psychiatrist or from somebody who is on the outside looking in, it’s pretty clear what the prescription is for any or all of the disorders above (and no, the answer isn’t to put state lawmakers on drugs to calm them down). The answer is engaged leadership -- leadership that will bring people together to form a common vision to improve the state and then work to achieve common goals.

It’s time that South Carolina gets off the autopilot of the way we’ve done things in the past. It’s time for us to wake up, put on our big kid underpants and craft a future where children have real opportunity and adults can live in dignity. It’s time to stop the politics of “us” and “them,” and remember that “we” are in this together. 

Yes, it’s time for South Carolina to listen attentively to the lesson in Proverbs 29: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Spotlight

The South Carolina Education Association

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is The South Carolina Education Association (The SCEA), the professional association for educators in South Carolina. Educators from pre-K to 12th grade comprise The SCEA. The SCEA is the leading advocate for educational change in South Carolina. Educators in South Carolina look to The SCEA for assistance in every aspect of their professional life. From career planning as a student to retirement assessment as a career teacher, The SCEA offers assistance, guidance, and inspiration for educators. Learn more: TheSCEA.org.
My Turn

NPLEx is right solution in battle against meth

By Frank McKeithen
Sheriff, Bay County, Fla.
Special to Statehouse Report

MARCH 29, 2013 -- South Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill to require a doctor’s prescription for common cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE). The legislation is designed to combat the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug often made with those medicines. While I am not a South Carolinian, I do have a perspective on the debate due to my experience as the Sheriff of Bay County, Florida for many years.

Specifically, Florida—just like South Carolina—uses real-time, stop-sale technology known as the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx). The crux of South Carolina’s current debate is whether a prescription requirement—a measure that imposes significant burdens on law-abiding consumers—is a more effective solution in the battle against meth than electronic tracking. I am writing this piece because I believe electronic tracking is the best approach to the battle against meth.

For the law enforcement officials who take advantage of it, NPLEx is a powerful tool. The system allows us to track illegal PSE purchasing activity up to the second. For instance, we can receive email and text message alerts when a particular suspect attempts to make a purchase or when a particular store sells an unusually high volume of PSE in a short time frame. Before the system was adopted, officers would have to drive around to multiple pharmacies and examine handwritten logbooks in order to collect evidence on suspicious purchases. Not only was that a tedious process, it was completely ineffective. Now, if we receive a tip on a possible meth-cook site, we can pull up the system in a matter of seconds to ascertain additional evidence. This enhanced tracking capability has helped Florida and South Carolina officers execute numerous meth arrests and lab busts.

I am convinced that if more law enforcement officials take full advantage of electronic tracking, we can put a serious dent in meth-related crime. We have to do everything we can to stop meth manufacturers operating in South Carolina, Florida and around the county.  When it comes to state policies, however, it’s important to remember that no matter what we do, we will continue to face an uphill battle against meth. The DEA estimates that 80 percent of American meth is smuggled here from Mexican drug cartels. These ruthless cartels are constantly adapting and finding new ways to infiltrate our drug markets. Until we can eradicate addiction and cut off demand for the drug, Mexican-made meth will continue to be a vexing problem.

South Carolina lawmakers deserve credit for putting forward a bill to tackle what has become a big problem facing many states in our part of the country. As a longtime member of the law enforcement community, I take this issue very seriously. I’m opposed to a prescription requirement because I believe it would lead to significant burdens for honest citizens but fail to address the real causes of our meth problem, such as Mexican-made meth and addiction.

From a Floridian’s perspective, I believe South Carolina leaders should give real-time, stop-sale technology a chance to work. It really is a powerful and effective tool.

McKeithen is the sheriff of Bay County, Florida.

Feedback

Enjoyed article on Policy Council

To the editor:
 
Good job on today's piece [NEWS:  "The changing face of the S.C. Policy Council"] on the conservative think tanks!

Glad folks like you are out there to keep us straight on the so called intellectual thinkers.
-- Bob Noe, Columbia, S.C.

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Scorecard

Up on education, down for Wilson

Education $. The feds have repealed a $36 million-per year penalty on South Carolina’s public K-12 funding, originally levied for us not spending enough on kids with educational challenges. More.

Food. Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to limit what food stamp recipients can buy with the state’s money make her sound like a bully to some, but it forces a discussion on the issue of obesity. But interestingly, the state website on food stamps includes link to a federal study that such a move is impractical. More.

Wilson. Attorney General Alan Wilson, the man many expect will be put in charge of policing more and more ethical complaints made against state government, self-reported that he failed to account for $134,000 in campaign funds – the largest statewide error in years. Perfect. More.

Diversity. Women only make up 19 percent of state college boards, despite women making up half of the state’s population. Who’s teaching the maths here? More.

Stegelin

This is for you


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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/.