Running in place?
A policy preview of the 2014 legislative session
By Bill Davis, EditorDEC. 6, 2013 -- Next year in the legislature has all the hallmarks of the second year of a two-year session: scads of unfinished work and unfulfilled promises, and the chance for a lot -- or very little -- to get accomplished.
When the General Assembly reconvenes in January, very little will have changed, agenda-wise, from the previous year. Tried-and-true issues like redistricting and transparency and fending off the federal government will once again dominate and underwhelm.
The House seems to be taking a largely reactive, wait-and-see approach, as the dominant GOP caucus is standing pat on its agenda priorities from the 2013 session, which have passed and been sent to the Senate.
Even with an election year looming, bills pre-filed this week in the House carry no major gunpowder and seem to be a bellwether for a “let’s get reelected” session with some political grandstanding on the side, according to observers.
While more surprises could be in store next week when both chambers have another deadline to pre-file bills, the House measures introduced this week largely focused on beefing up protection for kids and women.
One pre-filed bill, H. 4356, the Local Option Motor Fuel User Fee Act, could be a barometer of the general mood of those clamoring for an increase in the state’s comparatively low gas tax to offset growing infrastructure needs. This bill would limit to two cents how much a county could assess in fuel taxes in addition to state taxes for local road projects and maintenance.
The Senate, normally the more contemplative of the two chambers, could be the site of any fireworks in 2014, thanks to further tipping of the political scales more in the favor of the so-called William Wallace Caucus.
The loose coterie of a dozen or so Republicans voting along that caucus’s libertarian/tea party ethos picked up two more potential members last year. And coming into this year, the absence of former Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) robs traditional “Eisenhower” Republicans of a go-to vote.
Ford, a great friend and occasional political ally of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell and mainstream Republicans when the former was still president pro tempore of the Senate, stepped down this year “for health reasons” and while fellow senators looked at ethics allegations. Sen. Marlon Kimpson (D-Charleston) replaced Ford. Observers doubt Kimpson, a corporate fraud attorney, will be as cozy with the GOP as Ford often was.
Last year saw an emboldened William Wallace caucus stand tough on issues, forcing country club Republicans to triangulate with Democrats in the Senate to get bills passed. The end of the session vote on the state budget and the extra time it took to get it passed with the General Assembly returning for a special weeklong session, shows how divisive the landscape has become.
An early test in the ever-changing political chemistry of the Senate will be how it handles a House bill to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns into places that serve alcohol. If the bill is handled on the floor quickly, then a truce of sorts has been implemented and signs point to a highly productive non-election year in the Senate.
But if it bogs down and gets kicked around a rhetorical football for its members running for office, such as gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) or state Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg), who is challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the GOP primary, then the session’s potential effectiveness could be slowed.
State Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens), chair of the Judiciary Committee, said unless there exists willingness on all sides of the various political divides in the Senate, then the session could become a slow slog.
“I’ll tell you, we got enough on the calendar to keep us busy until the spring break,” he said. “We got to work through things or it’s going to get away from us.”
Same ol’ same
Martin said there are four key issues to this year’s session:
- Restructuring I. Success for an ethics reform bill package may hinge on whether an agreement can be found on how far proposed income disclosure requirements are allowed. Some members of the legislature think lawyers on both sides, according to observers, won’t be keen on letting everyone see their client list for fear of the electorate not being able to distinguish between the politician and who, or what, they are representing, albeit for a fee. Already, arguments against creating a new ethics structure has cropped up in the Senate, where members point proudly to the job done getting Ford out of office as proof of the current paradigm’s effectiveness.
- Restructuring II. For years, the legislature has been kicking around bills that would create a cabinet-level Department of Administration that would oversee the functions of state government. Sheheen and Gov. Nikki Haley are fans, but according to well-placed sources in the Senate, it has little chance of surviving, as the legislature still doesn’t want to cede more control to the executive branch.
- Medicaid expansion. While the House bill on rejecting Medicaid expansion currently sits near the top of the Senate calendar and includes the word “nullification,” don’t be fooled, Martin said. Whatever passes will not make federal health-care options illegal in South Carolina. But that’s not an ersatz welcome mat either, even though the state’s Medicaid costs have been climbing despite South Carolina opting-out of expansion in exchange for huge influxes of federal money and control.
- Roads. Infrastructure needs are well known to legislators, who hear about cruddy roads and bridges from constituents. But solutions, beyond raising taxes of some sort, haven’t been found to solve the problem. A bill “quarterbacked” during the off-session by state Sen. Ray Cleary (R-Murrells Inlet), is gaining traction as a possible middle ground, according to Martin.
Crystal ball: There’s plenty of work to be done in the General Assembly, but it remains to be seen if the House politicians and constitutional officers up for election, and the factions in the Senate can get out of the way of the work getting done.
Grand old house, Wells, S.C.
We're told this grand Orangeburg County house about five miles northwest of Holly Hill, S.C. where U.S. Highways 15 and 176 split may once have been a stagecoach stop between Charleston and Columbia, but we can’t confirm that. Regardless, the house, hit by neglect for a few years, is in the process of being renovated. Look closely and you’ll see the family who owns it just had a daughter (see if you can find the pink stork sign).
Retired Kingstree editor Linda W. Brown says the house in the Wells community seems to have been built by Samuel P. Wells (1834-1900). Other pictures of the South at SouthernCrescent.org. Photo by Andy Brack.
Meetings starting to crank up
Several legislative meetings are on tap:
- Education. The Education Oversight Committee will meet 1 p.m. Monday in Blatt 433 in Columbia to discuss academic standards, reading performance and more. Agenda. The EOC subcommittee on the Education Improvement Act will meet earlier in the same room at 11 a.m. about the agency’s budget.
- Energy. The state Energy Advisory Council of the State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee will meet 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in 110 Blatt. The focus of the meeting is “distributed energy resources.” The meeting is scheduled to be broadcast live via SCETV.
- Transportation. The Joint Transportation Review Committee will meet 11 a.m., Jan. 9 to screen five individuals for three positions on the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission. Notice of meeting.
- Budget. The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee will meet 12:30 a.m. Wednesday in Blatt 305 to hear from the State Law Enforcement Division, Department of Natural Resources and other agencies. More.
Beatty’s intemperate remarks will cost him
By Andy Brack, PublisherDEC. 6, 2013 -- S.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Don Beatty has talked himself out of a future job -- chief justice of the state’s highest court.
Media outlets widely reported 13 of the state’s 16 solicitors want to keep Beatty from hearing appeals involving prosecutors in criminal cases because of remarks made at a September solicitors’ meeting in Myrtle Beach.
What got the prosecutors lathered up was what they say was Beatty’s wrong, pointed criticism that accused them of abusing the powers of their offices.
“If I asked you what your job was, many of your would say ‘to put people in jail’ or ‘to win,’” according to a reportedly undisputed summary of Beatty’s remarks included in a complaint by 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson of Charleston. “That’s not your job. Your job is to seek the truth.
“I’m not here to threaten you, but I want to put you on notice. We are no longer turning a blind eye to what y’all are doing. ... If something is brought before us, we will reverse your cases. You have been getting away with too much for too long. ... For too long, we have looked the other way but that’s over. We are not just going to overturn convictions; we are going to take your licenses.”
Wow. Wonder what a threat from Beatty would be like? [Read Beatty's bio | Read a letter signed by 12 other solicitors]
While the above rant was directed at the machinations of the courts, what Beatty said in relation to a 2012 decision was even more explosive. In that case, the high court ruled unconstitutional a state law giving solicitors control over the criminal court docket -- the ability to call cases when they wanted. Essentially, the court said, the law created the potential for abuse.
At the Myrtle Beach conference, according to the summary, Beatty said he was “loaded for bear” and slammed any move to rewrite the law: “I hear that you and some legislators are out there trying to get something passed, but you better stop because you are wasting your time. It will be unconstitutional.
“There are three votes. We have the three votes on the court and we will declare it unconstitutional, whatever it is. That is right. It is unconstitutional so no legislation can overturn that. It is a question of due process. We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon so you better focus your energy elsewhere.”
Actually, there probably will be only two votes because any court with a lick of common sense would require Beatty to disqualify himself on the issue because he revealed his opinion of a future decision on a case not even before the court.
These are the remarks that are the most troublesome -- that a sitting State Supreme Court justice filled with obvious vitriol would telegraph what the court might do. Beatty seems to have made up his mind -- even before any new law might be passed by the legislature.
What the justice said flies in the face of judicial impartiality.
But maybe it’s good we know now because more than likely, Beatty has slammed the gavel on any hope of being chief justice. Beatty, you see, is next in line after Chief Justice Jean Toal and Associate Justice Costa Pleicones, both of whom are in a battle for the top spot to be decided early next year.
While Supreme Court terms are for 10 years, neither Toal nor Pleicones is expected to serve that long, as both are nearing the generally accepted judicial retirement age of 72. Because the legislature traditionally elects the most senior-serving justice for the top spot, Beatty should be next in line.
But Beatty, a key player in redistricting in 1992 that led to the GOP takeover of the state House two years later, won’t find much support. Legislators will now buck tradition and find someone more even-tempered.
Why? Because three independent accounts of Beatty’s September remarks have been put in his file at the S.C. Judicial Merit Screening Commission, according to its chair, Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
“If he chooses to offer for chief justice, it will be discussed,” Martin told Statehouse Report.
Good. Intemperate, partial judges are embarrassments to the fundamental rule of law.
Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report. You can reach Brack at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Riley Institute at Furman
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is The Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics, and Public Leadership, a multi-faceted, non-partisan institute affiliated with the Department of Political Science at Furman University. Named for former Governor of South Carolina and United States Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, the Institute is unique in the United States in the emphasis it places on engaging students in the various arenas of politics, public policy, and public leadership.
What if there were no Obamacare?
By Lynn Bailey, Statehouse Report blogger
DEC. 6, 2013 -- All right already, I get, rolling out Obamacare and healthcare.gov has been, depending on your political perspective, either underwhelming or a debacle. But what if President Obama had been as successful as President Clinton with health reform? What if the Republicans defeated or repealed the Affordable Care Act? What would health care look like in South Carolina today without Obamacare? Where would we be, in terms of healthcare, at the end of 2013?
As a health care economist I’ve observed and participated in South Carolina’s health care for almost 30 years. I’ve seen much that has changed for the better and much that has remained the same.
Health insurance premium rates for large groups, small groups and individuals would have increased every year. Year after year. How much would depend on what insurance companies decided based on their assessment of the risk of the pool of covered lives but my estimates are that S.C.’s increases would closely reflect national averages. Costs are slightly lower in South Carolina but we tend to change at higher rates so we can catch up. [Just in case those pesky folks in Mississippi try and pass us.] Kaiser Family Foundation routinely tracks premium changes and on average for the last 15 years, single coverage premiums have increase annually about 5.5 percent and family coverage has increased over 10 percent annually.
Folks with employer-provided coverage would find themselves facing higher out-of-pocket expenses with increasing co-payments and deductibles. Prescription drug formularies would have changed to a three- or four-tiered formulary with lower-tier generic drugs costing nothing or $10 for 90-day supply and branded drugs having co-pays from $35 to $65 or as a percentage of price, depending on the tier on the formulary. Taking a drug not pre-authorized or on the formulary -- its all the patient’s responsibility if he can afford it.
If you are lucky enough to have individual private health insurance, you are individually underwritten. This means your monthly premium is based on your own individual health status. It is also based on your age and your gender. Ladies, remember now that being female from the insurers’ perspective is just one more pre-existing condition. As privately and individually insured, you faced the option of continually rising insurance premiums on policies that exclude your particular pre-existing condition for at least a year. When the renewal letter arrives you have the choice of simply renewing and paying more or you select the option to modify your insurance policy to go with a higher deductible to offset an increasing premium.
Here’s where you’re surprised and discover you’ve been re-underwritten: Your pre-existing policy exclusion continues another year or that you are being referred to the South Carolina High Risk Pool. This is the subtle form of being CANCELLED. In the high-risk pool, you discover your premium triples and your pre-existing condition is excluded from coverage for a year. So you make the painful terrifying decision to go without health insurance. Thousands of South Carolinians face that every year. How else do you explain 900,000 to 1 million of us without health insurance?
Employer-provided, other insurance
If you are covered by employer-provided health coverage, you may be facing more employers choosing to simply drop employees’ coverage because it’s just too costly. Fewer and fewer employers, especially small employers have continued to drop coverage. So you end up without health insurance coverage.
If you are a retiree and not yet ready for Medicare or have a spouse or a dependent child who can’t be covered by Medicare, you may find your employer-provided retiree coverage has become unaffordable or you may have found it discontinued because your employer declared bankruptcy to avoid the legacy costs of health insurance and pensions. You are one of a growing number without health insurance.
So what would you do? You’d call the South Carolina Department of Insurance and ask for help. Here you’d find you are out of luck. South Carolina has no health insurer of last resort. Some states require Blue Cross plans to cover anyone who applies or guaranteed issue but not South Carolina. Here health insurance regulation protects the insurance plan and not the consumer. That’s the free market for you.
Want an appointment with a physician without health insurance? Be prepared to pay with a credit card or cash. They usually don’t take checks. Need to see the orthopedist because your son broke an arm playing baseball? The deposit to assure he gets care is probably $500 up front. And you hope and pray he doesn’t need surgery. You skip your annual check-up and mammogram so you can pay for your daughter’s braces. If you lose your health insurance, you are also likely to have lost dental and vision care as well. You are truly in market with all your skin and hide exposed. Good luck trying find out the prices of anything related to health care.
So without the ACA, S.C. has more folks who are uninsured, higher insurance premiums, higher out-of-pocket expenses, rising health care prices and a limited choice of physicians willing to see the uninsured.
Without the ACA, the number of uninsured South Carolinians would be close to 1.3 million people. This estimate is simply based on the number of people who are long-term unemployed in South Carolina as a result of the Great Recession. It also includes a count of the number of people who have found their way onto the South Carolina Medicaid rolls, but these are mostly children.
The Affordable Care Act doesn’t reform health care. It reforms health insurance. It is hoped that by making private health insurance more affordable and mandating we all have coverage will change how health care is organized, delivered and priced. It makes a complicated system more complicated and health insurance more available to people who in South Carolina and have never had or lost their health insurance because they lost their job or developed a health condition. It is hoped that private insurance companies offering health insurance coverage in search of new customers and tax credits will negotiate with health providers for better care and lower costs.
What I do know is that without the ACA , insurance companies wouldn’t care what happens to the 1 million South Carolinians without health insurance. The uninsured would continue to suffer and ultimately seek care when the pain is so bad in the local hospital’s emergency department. The more things change the more they remain the same.
Without the Affordable Care Act, health care costs would continue to rise. There is no functioning market in health care because there is no functioning mechanism to transmit information of quantity and price to customers and providers. Customers act based on the orders of the physicians and providers supply services based on those orders and are generally paid by the third party—private insurance or public insurance. Or they simply aren’t paid.
The Affordable Care Act has given South Carolinians options we would never have had. It remains to be seen if we can take advantage of these options. It’s our choice to select to change or not.
Lynn Bailey is a consulting health care economist based in Columbia. Bailey, team leader of the new health.statehousereport.com blog, has consulted for rural hospitals, physician practices and ambulatory surgery centers for more than 30 years. Email her at email@example.com
Agree on South Carolina’s flag
To the editor:
Read your article with great interest about our beloved state flag, and agree with you about it and the flag of Texas, my native state. As I recall, the palmetto tree was used because many forts, especially around Charleston, had palisades of palmetto logs, which frustrated the British considerably, due to the resilience of the logs.
I enjoy your articles.
-- Susan Lander LeBase, Florence, S.C.
Thumbs down on Orangeburg jail
I hope to see a thumbs down for the Orangeburg jail, where recently they had the sixth inmate death in 13 months. (And why isn't this a front page story in The Post and Courier?)
-- Sharon Fratepietro, Charleston, S.C.
NOTE: Here’s a story about the most recent death.
Robocalls should be illegal
To the editor:
In reference to your Morning News political robocall article dated 11/23/2013, I emailed Carri Lybarker this morning and mentioned your article to her and told her that I am on the DO NOT CALL list and have received numerous unsolicited political robocalls.
I asked that she act at once to enforce the law regarding unsolicited robocalls and to contact me regarding her response to my complaint. Further, that I would be writing to The State Newspaper concerning my complaint to her and her response to me about this important matter.
Thanks for helping to address this important matter.
-- John Harlow, Lake View, S.C.
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From Inez to disclosure
Tenenbaum. Hats off to South Carolina’s Inez Tenenbaum, who stepped down as head of the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission at the end of November. She did a great job by all accounts and transformed the agency. See this story.
FedEx. Another big distribution facility for the state, this time FedEx’s $40 million center to be built in Spartanburg. Hooray.
Indicators. Leading economic indicators hit a six-year high in October, according to the state. Another hooray.
HealthCare.gov. Seems to be getting better. Finally. More.
Strong mayor. While we’ve seen the benefits of strong mayors in Charleston and Greenville, there’s still a lot of mistrust in Columbia, which is why voters probably said no this week. More.
Salary. A salary that will meet or exceed $775,000 for Clemson’s new president. Sheesh. Seems a bit excessive. At least taxpayers are only footing a third of the bill. More.
Vick. The DUI trial against state Rep. Ted Vick (D-Chesterfield) has been delayed after potential jurors talked about it in the jury room. Geez. More.
More sparks. The folks on the S.C. Retirement System Investment Commission still can’t get their act together. More.
Bad precedent. The S.C. Department of Transportation is setting a bad precedent by revising an agreement to allow extension of Interstate 526 by Charleston County, not the state. More. Critiques of the project are here.
Finance disclosure. State judges got an F grade on financial disclosure, according to a national report. More.