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ISSUE 12.46
Nov. 15, 2013

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

Index

News :
Race for top judge is on
Photo :
Pool hall, Fairfax, S.C.
Legislative Agenda :
Oversight commission meetings ahead
Radar Screen :
Piling on (or is it up?)
Palmetto Politics :
Highways getting some attention
Commentary :
Trash measure is a pig in a poke
Spotlight :
Time Warner Cable
My Turn :
State's education scores not mirrored by national scores
Feedback :
Call me first
Scorecard :
From coal to nukes to Obamacare
Megaphone :
"Unpredictable and erratic"
Tally Sheet :
Search S.C. legislative bills
Encyclopedia :
Middleton Place

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EDITOR'S NOTE

Report to feature new policy blogs

Statehouse Report is working with accomplished policy experts to start new issue-oriented blogs to explore the major topics we cover: The state’s economy, education, environment, good government and health care. In the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to these commentaries in our My Turn section. We’ll also highlight posts in a coming new section, “In our blogs.”

  • First up at bat: Education analyst Jon Butzon of the aptly named JonButzon.com.

NUMBER OF THE WEEK

572

That’s the number of South Carolinians who had gotten health insurance through HealthCare.gov as of this week. Also of note: About 11,250 applications from South Carolinians representing 21,000 people had been completed by November 2. “One-third of the 15,300 individuals deemed eligible for coverage through the marketplace qualify for federal subsidies that reduce a policy's cost. More than 3,100 adults and children qualified for Medicaid instead. The feds say the troubled Web site will be fixed by the end of the month. We’ll see. More.

MEGAPHONE

"Unpredictable and erratic"

“You never know what you’re going to get with Haley. One day the Republican South Carolina governor is doing navy off-the-shoulder ruffled taffeta, another she’s in a nubby faux-Chanel suit, then a shiny royal blue ’50s-esque jacket, then a pink two-piece suit-dress that looks like it was made out of curtains. Unpredictable and erratic—is that the description of someone we want to have the nuclear codes?

-- Fashion experts Tim Gunn and Ada Calhoun in a new Politico columnRead more.

TALLY SHEET

Search S.C. legislative bills

With the legislature adjourned until next year, it's easy to look at bills filed in 2013 to determine what's so far in the hopper for 2014.  Pre-filing of new bills for 2014 for House members and senators is December 3 and 10

ENCYCLOPEDIA

Middleton Place

Middleton Place is an Ashley River plantation located on Highway 61 (Ashley River Road) just outside Charleston. It was established on land originally granted in 1675 but probably not settled until it passed to John Williams in the early eighteenth century.


Middleton Place, photo by Michael Kaynard

Henry Middleton (1717- 1784) acquired the property through his marriage to Williams's daughter Mary in 1741. Middleton added to the original acreage and began the elegant gardens that have made Middleton Place internationally famous. As the birthplace of Henry Middleton's son Arthur (1742-1787), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Middleton Place was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

The gardens, thought to be the oldest surviving formal landscaped gardens in the United States, are renowned for their collection of Camellia japonicas, introduced about 1786 by the French Royal botanist André Michaux.

In 1990, the United Nations International Committee on Monuments and Sites named Middleton Place one of six United States gardens having international importance. Burned by Union soldiers in 1865, Middleton Place continued in the Middleton family until 1984, when ownership was vested in the nonprofit Middleton Place Foundation.

Middleton Place includes a museum housed in what was originally the south flank of the former three-building main residence; a plantation chapel built in 1850 above the eighteenth-century springhouse; a rice mill built in 1851; and an 1870s African American freedman's house in the reconstructed stable-yards complex. It is open for public visiting every day of the year except Christmas.

-- Excerpted from the entry by Barbara Doyle. 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

Race for top judge is on

Real story is who will be after Toal or Pleicones?

By Corey Hutchins, contributing writer

NOV. 15, 2013 -- A unique government panel made up of lawmakers and their designees held a public screening last week in Columbia for the two candidates who are running to lead the state's Supreme Court.

It was largely a perfunctory process. Both candidates — current Chief Justice Jean Toal and Associate Justice Costa Pleicones — are already on the bench. South Carolina is the only state other than Virginia where lawmakers elect state judges. So sometime as soon as February, the 170 members of the General Assembly will choose who leads the court. Toal and Pleicones will be allowed to court votes from lawmakers soon.

What's odd is that there's a race at all.

The leader of the state's high court is traditionally chosen behind the scenes through an informal  process of friendly agreements within the court that promotes associate members in the order of seniority. Under that tradition, Pleicones would have been the next in line.

But that didn't happen. 

To the surprise of many court watchers and the legal community, Toal, who has served as chief for the past 10 years, decided to run for re-election. And it was a surprise to Pleicones, too, whom Toal had told she wouldn't seek another term.

A longtime public defender and circuit court judge, Pleicones had been thinking of becoming chief justice for a decade.

“I was surprised when she indicated that she would run for re-election,” he said, but added he doesn't want it to be construed as his reason for challenging her.   It always has been beneficial to the court, he says, to have new leadership.

“I applaud the chief justice for her 25 years [on the bench], but I believe that any leadership position can benefit from a new outlook,” he said, adding that there are certain unspecified internal controls he believes could help the state's top court process its caseload more efficiently.

Meanwhile, Toal views technological reforms in the court system as a hallmark of her term, and says she decided to run again so she can finish a handful of projects that began with her at the helm, such as digitizing court reporting and renovating the Calhoun Building.

“You need to be there to finish it,” she says people had told her about such projects.

Now what?

Toal and Pleicones are longtime friends who came up together out of the same social circles in the leafy downtown neighborhoods of Columbia.  Knives are not flashing in this race, but it's been a peculiar situation to watch for those who have known the two.

The time it's taken high court justices to file decisions on cases became a focal point in the screening process last week. The recent death of Columbia attorney Steve Morrison, who represented dozens of school districts in a school equity case that's dragged on at the Supreme Court for nearly 20 years without resolution, gave the issue a timely hook.  Meanwhile, the Charleston City Paper reported that the court has been ignoring a turn-of-the-century state law requiring justices to file their decisions within 60 days of the end of a term after hearing a case.

A central issue to all of the drama also has to do with age.

Both Toal, who is 70, and Pleicones, 69, are nearing the so-called mandatory retirement age of 72 when they'd have to leave the court to receive pension and retirement benefits. Had Toal not run for re-election and everything gone according to tradition, she would have stepped down in December of 2015, and Pleicones would have stepped up for a brief stint as chief before he would have to retire in 2016. Next in line for the chief's job in order of seniority under those circumstances would be Associate Justice Don Beatty.

The oddity of the current race for chief could lead to more cascading complications when it comes to Supreme Court tradition. Already it's been disrupted and a question on the minds of legal observers is what it could mean beyond the 2014 race. If seniority elevation is finished, will lawmakers care who the next in line would be? Under the traditional process, it would be Associate Justice Don Beatty.

That has court watchers wondering who outside the current court might be an option.   Sources close to current Republican Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell have said the job has been on his radar.

Early speculation among legal insiders has been about John Few, a 50-year-old Upstate judge who has served as current chief justice of the South Carolina Court of Appeals for the past three years.  

Few declined to comment on any designs he might have on the chief justice position when it next opens.  But, he said,  "I'm definitely interested in running for associate justice when a seat comes open. That's a goal of mine going back to when I first became a judge." 

Corey Hutchins is a reporter with the Charleston City Paper and new contributor to Statehouse Report.

Photo

Pool hall, Fairfax, S.C.


A pool hall is next to a beauty and barber shop in Fairfax, S.C., which had a third fewer people than the 3,206 who lived there in 2000. The rural community is in Allendale County where more than 40 percent of people live in poverty. Photo by Andy Brack, September 2013.

Legislative Agenda

Oversight commission meetings ahead

  • Education Oversight: A subcommittee of the Education Oversight Committee will meet 10 a.m. Monday in Blatt 433 in Columbia to discuss science standards and accountability. Agenda. Another subcommittee will meet at 2 p.m. the same day in the same room to discuss next year’s budget and provisos. Agenda.

  • Sentencing: The Sentencing Reform Oversight Committee will meet 2 p.m. Monday in Gressette 308. Agenda. 
Radar Screen

Piling on (or is it up?)

More than a dozen lobbyists reportedly have been hired to bolster passage of now controversial House Bill 3290, the so-called “Business Freedom to Choose Act,” which is the topic of this week’s commentary. Thanks to a hard-hitting ad that woke the bill from a slumber, its final passage is no longer assured -- particularly if the state Senate gets busy with its responsibility. Look for what was supposed to be a quiet effort to be front and center at the start of the legislative session.

Palmetto Politics

Highways getting some attention

Looks like the State Infrastructure Bank has approved project funding of up to $550 million for work on the state’s highway system, which has more than $20 billion in needs.  On the list are projects at:
  • “Malfunction junction” in Columbia at the interchange of Interstates 20 and 26;
  • The Port of Charleston;
  • The interchange at Interstates 85 and 385;
  • Widening of I-85 in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties;
  • Widening of 10 miles of I-20 in Lexington County; and several other projects.

Not on this list: Expansion of Interstate 526, which has Charleston County’s blessing, but seems up in the air for the state Department of Transportation.  Its funding would come from a different pot of money  More.

Commentary

Trash measure is a pig in a poke

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher

NOV. 15, 2013 -- It’s pretty amazing how one television ad can transform a measure that didn’t make a blip on the legislative radar screen earlier this year into something that’s now controversial.

The issue: trash.

In January, the S.C. House voted 89-28 to pass the “Business Freedom to Choose Act.” Sounds nice, although some may think it sounds like an odd abortion measure instead of a bill to “promote competition” between public and private landfills.

“Every citizen in this state understands that competition leads to competitive prices and high quality of goods and services,” said Julie Scott of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce. “For example: If there was only one grocery store in a county, citizens would be forced to shop there for food for their families and that store could charge essentially whatever it wanted. Without this legislation, businesses are in danger of paying significantly higher prices for trash disposal.”

One problem, however, is that the confusing, convoluted bill is far different than something to merely promote competition. For example, tipping fees at public landfills are already competitive with those at private dumps. An analysis by the state Department of Health and Environmental Services shows private fees in 2012 averaged $38.43 per ton -- 29 cents more than publicly-funded landfill tipping fees.

Another problem, critics complain, is the bill was sold to many as a piece of legislation that would mostly impact Horry County, not the whole state. They say the measure would dramatically tip the balance between public and private landfills in favor of private ones. Why? Because it would put public landfills at risk because of the borrowing that built expensive landfills. If less trash were dumped, there potentially wouldn’t be as much revenue, which could hurt a county’s ability to make payments on a revenue bond, according to the S.C. Association of Counties.

Again, none of this seemed too clear at the beginning of the session when the bill got overwhelming bipartisan support in the House. Now the bill is on the Senate calendar with a potential of being heard at the start of the 2014 legislative session. Meanwhile, there’s a parallel effort by House proponents to attach the measure to a recycling bill already passed in the Senate so that it can get jammed through more quickly.

But the tough ad that started airing this month across the state has changed the political dynamics of the whole, ahem, mess.

The ad, which can be viewed through DontDumpOnSC.com, pummels the bill as a tool that would allow South Carolina to take more out-of-state waste. Narrated by the Northern voice of “Antony, New York City,” the ad says: “Dear South Carolina, Thank you guys for taking our garbage. We can’t have mountains of garbage stinking up Staten Island -- and we can unload it on youse cheap, since you don’t mind making your state a dump. Talk about Southern hospitality -- sweet, because we got plenty more where this came from.”

What’s really amazing is the ad is running two months before the session starts -- a strategy that has some supporters questioning votes earlier this year when they thought the bill was something else.

“I’ve never really seen the conservation community play hardball like this,” said state Rep. Bakari Sellers, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor. Until the ad ran, he added, “I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.”

Also interesting is the data about waste dumped in South Carolina. Private landfills are far from the impoverished underclass of South Carolina’s waste industry. Private landfills accept almost three times the amount of waste -- 3.8 million tons -- compared to the 1.3 million tons accepted at nine county or regional landfills in the state. Furthermore, private landfills took 600,590 tons of out-of-state waste in 2012, compared to 28,095 tons from “off” at public landfills the same year.  [Click here to see summary chart.]

What this whole issue involves is big private waste companies trying to squeeze out the competition -- public landfills -- to gain a more competitive advantage. If they get their way, you can bet your last dollar that prices won’t go down. They’ll go up.

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

Spotlight

Time Warner Cable

The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. Today, we’re happy to shine the spotlight on Time Warner Cable. The company’s Carolina Region provides video, Internet and telephone services to more than two million customers in more than 400 cities and towns across North and South Carolina. Time Warner Cable is the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., with technologically advanced, well-clustered systems located in New York State, the Carolinas, Ohio, southern California and Texas.  The company’s mission: Connect people and businesses with information, entertainment and each other; give customers control in ways that are simple and easy.

My Turn

State's education scores not mirrored by national scores

By Jon Butzon, Statehouse Report blogger

NOV. 15, 2013 -- Generally speaking, I like solving puzzles.  My doctor tells me that working with puzzles is one way to help hang onto what little brain power I have left.  So the crossword puzzle and Sudoku are a part of my daily regimen. That said, not all puzzles are enjoyable because not all puzzles are solvable, at least for me.  A case in point: the puzzle of the school and district report cards released last week.

Amid great fanfare and a bit of self-congratulatory hyperbole, the South Carolina Department of Education released school and district report cards last week. In what sounded a lot like a re-election campaign piece, the department noted that “Since Dr. Zais was elected superintendent, high school graduation rates, High School Assessment Program scores, and End of Course Examination Program scores have all increased.” They also noted that the on-time graduation rate has improved by nearly 4 percentage points over two years ago, and school district rankings (I think they meant ratings) increased as did individual rankings.

This news should be the source of hope and celebration. It should be, but it isn’t.  It’s really more of a puzzle. High school graduation rates, High School Assessment Program scores, End of Course Examinations and district report cards are all derived using formulas created and calculated by the South Carolina Department of Education. 

However, when the performance of South Carolina’s children is measured and calculated by any entity outside of the state, our children fare very poorly.  Consider NAEP.

NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes referred to by its nickname, the Nation’s Report Card.

"Instead of big talk and hollow claims, why won’t South Carolina’s leaders do what it takes to ensure that every child gets a competitive, college- and career-ready education? Just because we claim we are making progress doesn’t make it so."

Given every two years to a sample of students in every state, including about 6,000 South Carolina students, the NAEP gives policymakers a measure of how students are performing in math and reading at the fourth and eighth grade.  It also lets us assess performance in comparison to other states.

So how did South Carolina do?  In BOTH reading and math in BOTH the fourth and eighth grades in 2013, South Carolina has a smaller percentage of students performing at the proficient level or above than the nation as a whole

But have we made some progress?  It is important to take as long a view as is practical so that you can consider long term trends.  Year-to-year changes can give a false indication of performance. So, looking back 10 years, there has been no statistically significant improvement EXCEPT in eight grade reading. Remember, though, this still has our eighth graders performing below eighth graders in the nation as a whole.  That’s right.  In 10 years, there has been no improvement in fourth grade reading or math or eighth grade math. Ten years.

And yet, when the state looks at itself, it pounds its chest and says we are making substantial progress.

Are there any other indicators? 

There is an interesting analysis of SAT and ACT scores that was recently published by the Education Oversight Committee (EOC). SAT and ACT are college entrance examinations. Looking at composite SAT scores over eight years, the EOC documented steadily declining scores from a composite of 1,465 in 2006 to a composite of 1,436 in 2013.  Based on 2013 results, the SAT estimates that only 34 percent of S.C. test takers (compared to 43 percent in the nation as a whole) are judged to be college- and career-ready.

The ACT makes a similar analysis about college and career readiness.  This year, the ACT estimates that only 22 percent of S.C. test takers (compared to 26 percent in the nation as a whole) are college- and career-ready.  Our graduation rate may have climbed to a “lofty” 77.5 percent, but only a quarter to a third of those graduates is really prepared for college or career.

Obviously, neither 43 percent or 26 percent is satisfactory. Meeting the national average in anything should not be our goal.  The point is that in a nation that overall is doing an inadequate job preparing its children for college and careers, South Carolina continues to do even worse  While the Department of Education was busy touting its grand successes vis-à-vis school and district report cards, 10 years have passed with no real progress.

The real puzzle?  Instead of big talk and hollow claims, why won’t South Carolina’s leaders do what it takes to ensure that every child gets a competitive, college- and career-ready education? Just because we claim we are making progress doesn’t make it so.

Jon Butzon is an education policy analyst who lives in Summerville. He operates a new Statehouse Report blog on education policy blog called JonButzon.com

Feedback

Call me first

To the publisher:

Before you write articles like this you may want to call me to do some additional fact finding.  I spend plenty of time with Bill Davis on the phone and will happily do the same with you. The reality is that this Governor has made the single largest investment in rural hospitals this state has ever seen by injecting $20million of Medicaid DSH funds into them which will cover close to 100 percent of their uncompensated care costs. I don't expect to sway your opinion, but Obamacare isn't the only way to get things done if you care about the health of poor folks.

Best regards,

-- Tony Keck, Director, S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Columbia, S.C.

Dear Tony: Thanks for your note. But $20 million from the state for rural hospitals from the state versus $11 billion from the feds for Medicaid expansion? With hundreds of thousands of poor folks in South Carolina who use the emergency room for primary care, I’ll take the latter every time.
-- ACB

Send us your thoughts. We love hearing from our readers and encourage you to share your opinions.  But you've got to provide us with contact information so we can verify your letters. 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.  Send your letters to:
Scorecard

From coal to nukes to Obamacare

National mower: Hats off to Chris Cox, the South Carolina chainsaw artist who got notoriety during the government shutdown for mowing the National Mall. Seems like he got a big new chainsaw and some money for his efforts this week. More.

Coal plant:  Hooray for cleaner air and to SCE&G for closing its 50-year-old, dirty coal-fired power plant in Colleton County. More.

Clemson: Congratulations to the university for picking its new president, Jim Clements of West Virginia University. More.

Ethics reform: It’s good ethics reform again has Gov. Nikki Haley’s attention, but with the legislature holding the real power in the state, it might not be the smartest thing in the world for her to make “veiled political threats” to opponents. More.

Nuclear industry: The industry has a $20 billion impact in South Carolina with 100,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to a new Clemson study. We’re already the state with the largest nuclear footprint, which continues to worry many who wonder why the state isn’t doing more to push energy from a completely renewable resource: the sun. More.

Obamacare: We might like the hope of more accessibility to health insurance offered to many through the Affordable Care Act, but there’s no two ways about it: the implementation has been completely bungled. Get it together, folks.

Paul: Possible GOP presidential contender Rand Paul spoke at The Citadel this week but, as Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks points out, his penchant for plagiarism doesn’t meet the standards of the school’s honor code. More.
credits

Statehouse Report

Editor and Publisher: Andy Brack
Senior Editor: Bill Davis
Contributing Photographer: Michael Kaynard

Phone: 843.670.3996

© 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/.