S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0925.henry.htm

COMMENTARY
More prosecutors needed for criminal domestic violence
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

SEPT. 25, 2005 - - Attorney General Henry McMaster is onto something: South Carolina needs more prosecutors for criminal domestic violence.

In a recent special legislative meeting on domestic violence, McMaster proposed that lawmakers fund a special CDV prosecutor in each of the state’s 46 counties. The cost? About $2.2 million per year.

When you consider the 36,000 annual incident reports of domestic violence filed with South Carolina authorities every year, McMaster’s proposal makes sense. When you consider the fact our state is number one in the nation in the number of women killed by men and number three in the overall domestic violence rate, it makes sense to get even tougher on this crime. And when you consider the brutality to victims, the terror it causes to family and the way it mutes progress, McMaster is on target.

For the last two years, the state Attorney General’s office has run a pilot program in a few jurisdictions to see whether free private lawyers in courtrooms - - generally lower level magistrate’s courts for criminal domestic violence - - would make a difference.


McMaster

McMaster says the programs have boosted the conviction rate from somewhere around one-third of domestic violence cases to 77 percent. In other words, by having an advocate in the courtroom where none has existed sends a message that there’s someone to help the victim. (Imagine what you’d do when you as a victim were charging someone with a crime and the other person showed up in court with a lawyer, but there was no one to help you prosecute that person, with whom you have an emotional relationship.)

Earlier this year, state lawmakers toughened penalties for criminal domestic violence. The new law, which takes effect in January, makes a first conviction a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000. A second offense also is a misdemeanor, but will be tried in circuit court and carry a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. (The current penalty is 30 days in jail or a $500 fine.)

“Unless we have prosecutors in the room to utilize those laws, the full effect will not be realized,” McMaster said in an interview. “When there is a prosecutor in the courtroom, the chance for justice increases dramatically.”

McMaster said he realized his pro bono pilot project has been working, but that volunteer lawyers would not be enough over time to provide the stability and consistency to tackle the state’s domestic battering problem.

“Having been able to see the effect of these additional prosecutors, it is clear that we need more,” he said. “We can’t ask these volunteers to carry the whole load indefinitely….We need a larger army to fight these cases.”

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McMaster, former chair of the state Republican Party, isn’t about to ask for higher taxes or use a third of his already stretched $6 million annual budget to pay for the additional prosecutors. The proposal for CDV prosecutors, he says, is a question of state priorities for lawmakers to consider.

But he does point out that an investment in 46 prosecutors at an estimated $2.2 million likely would pay for itself.

If, for example, the state were to boost its conviction rate of 36,000 domestic violence cases from one third to two thirds (12,000 new convictions) and if each batterer were ordered to pay a fine of at lease $500, the state would generate $6 million in revenue - - three times what is needed to pay for prosecutors.

Maybe the state shouldn’t use domestic violence as a way to “make money” to fund government, but what’s the alternative? More violence or doing nothing? Surely, South Carolina first should make curbing domestic violence become a Palmetto Priority. Having more prosecutors, regardless of how much their success generates, state revenues, will help do that.

RECENT COMMENTARY


McLEMORE'S WORLD
9/23: Caught with pants down

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

To send a message to cartoonist Bill McLemore, write info@statehousereport.com


LEARN MORE DAILY

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FEEDBACK

9/21: Doesn't like Red Cross

To the editor:

Your latest email suggest that the two best ways to "help" the victims of Katrina is to make donations to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. My concern is based on memories of the huge amount of funds that were left over at the Amer Red Cross after 9-11; and the fact that altho I have followed the Katrina disaster on several networks every day, I haven't seen a single ARC or SAL Army compound to help with any needs. I realize that the absolutely disgusting, embarrassing local/state "management" ??? caused horrific problems in New Orleans, the fact that ARC & the SalArmy were never seen helping any of the victims/the dying/the dead immediately - I can't believe that they could be held back in such a period of need within the first few days.

I'm sorry, we will be donating only daily necessary supply items (diapers, formula, toilet paper, juice, canned vegetables, toothpaste, soap, etc) no more cash, because I am paranoid about the misuse of any funds being made available to use in particularly Louisiana.

-- Deborah Shealy Nye, Summit, SC

9/21: Just property tax system needed

To the editor:

I read your August 24th commentary in the Hartsville Messenger "Market is driving property taxes". Indeed property tax values have risen - but the mechanics that drive the property tax system remain flawed. In Darlington County, the "five year revaluation" process took place last summer. Since we purchased a property within the last five years, the assessed value of our home was brought up to the purchase value. Now my understanding of a reassessment is that ALL properties should be assessed at a appropriate market value. However, while researching my neighborhood values I learned that properties of equal or better market values were assessed at a values lower than our home (using a cost per square foot analysis.)

I appealled our assessment on the basis that market values were not
reflected unilaterally. The Auditors/Assessors office informed us that
there was a proviso in the law or actually a proposed law followed by the
county (I do not recall the bill number) that prevented raising UNSOLD
properties by more than 20% - but excludes sold or improved properties.

If any property tax system is to be fair - than this kind of spot
assessments or revisions is grossly unjustified. The rule was, as I
understand it, designed to limit the issue you examined in your article
whereby coastal and tourism areas are experiencing dramatic increases in
values. A better "reassessment" would be to increase properties to a
market value and then assess the total need of the taxing communties to
determine the appropriate millage rates. Whereas in your example the
coastal properties have increased dramatically - the needs of the local
particapting governments should not fill their coffers with such excess
-but to reduce the overall tax rate to everyone.

I think SC has a long way to go in admistering a just property tax system.
My letter to the governor/senators offices were acknowledged without
passing judgement (sic)- typical politics.

-- Kendall Schwoyer, Hartsville, SC


9/20: Watching a power struggle

To the editor:

I enjoyed reading your article (Commentary, 9/18) about the Governor’s issues, and must agree with much of what you say. However, it also occurs to me that a lot of people have forgotten that the citizens of SC voted for Sanford because he said he would do much of what he has tried to do. The greater issue, that you touched on, is that we are watching a power struggle between the legislature and the governor. Both sides think they have a better vision for the state. Neither side wants to give up any power.

As someone that has watched the state move from Democratic Party control to Republican Party control, I say that not much has changed in the state legislature. Senators still think they have power and should use it, lobbyists have simply changed friends, political patronage still seems to be based on nepotism and personal relationships, and everybody is mad at the governor because he won’t play the game. It’s as if the Republicans expect to get theirs after waiting years to kick the Democrats out of power.

If it was left to me, I turn the Legislature into a part-time, every other year body, and let Sanford go to it. It would not be any worse than what we have had, or have now.

-- Addison Ingle, Charleston, S.C.


9/20: Too busy whining

To the editor:

In your latest partisan diatribe against Governor Sanford (Commentary, 9/18), you suggest that he steer $400 million to small businesses to help them create jobs all over the state. Like most liberals, you're too busy whining about problems to notice solutions. Rather than inefficiently allowing government to over-tax small businesses and then redistribute those dollars back to them, why not just let small businesses keep more of their money in the first place, to help them create jobs?

Guess what? - that's what most of us call a tax reduction - and that's exactly what Governor Sanford has done. As a result of his leadership, the good ole boys in the legislature finally agreed to lower the income tax for small businesses to 5% - the same rate paid by the bigger companies. This tax reduction starts next year so those dollars, and those jobs, you want for small businesses are already coming. I know that you probably don't consider them since we've eliminated government - your favorite middleman - from this equation.

-- Todd Eischeid, Mount Pleasant, S.C.

(Editor's note: Eischeid is a co-founder Sticky Finger Restaurants; another co-founder is Chad Walldorf, who formerly served as deputy chief of staff for Sanford.)

Recent feedback:

KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on poverty, higher ed

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

7/17, Solving poverty will take years of committment: The poor and working poor comprise about one in four South Carolinians. State officials need to remember them in public policy decisions - - and do more to make their lives better because if we can’t do more to help those in need of help, what does that say about our values?

 

In The State:

9/23, Make sure Katrina inspires a new, smart war on poverty: "Whether you believe that people live in destitute poverty because government programs have failed them or because government has failed to fund those programs, it should be clear that we have not found a solution to poverty. Some programs most assuredly have nurtured a culture of dependency; others just as surely would lift more people out of poverty and into self-sufficiency if they were properly funded."

In Statehouse Report:

9/18, Governor needs to be a leader: "As Sanford the libertarian wants to slash and starve government, Sanford the politician realizes it is going to continue and wants to centralize its power under (guess who) the governor's office. That's why you've seen pushes to create a regent's council to centralize the state's higher education bureaucracy. "

In the Charleston City Paper:

9/21: Big man on campus: "He would like to see the creation of a board that would centralize the managemetn of the schools and be the sole arbiter of tuition rates. Hmm ... would that be increasing the size of government?

 


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Leatherman. It's good Senate Finance Committee Chair Hugh Leatherman is asking for an attorney general's opinion on a questionable diversion of $105 million by Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom to plug a deficit hole. We think Eckstrom overstepped his authority.

McMaster. Hats off to AG Henry McMaster for proposing to do more to fight criminal domestic violence.

Thumbs down

State Ports Authority. In addition to a series of unflattering articles this week in the Beaufort Gazette, the State Ports Authority argued with Jasper County in the S.C. Supreme Court that it needed to keep its monopoly on port operations.

Sanford. Gov. Mark Sanford still isn't trying to work with lawmakers. Now he's blaming them for Medicaid's problems. Hasn't he ever heard the axiom that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar?

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