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South Carolina editorial roundup

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


Feb. 26

The Post and Courier (of Charleston) on redrawing district lines:

Political incumbents in South Carolina tend to like the system by which they were elected. They feel no urge to alter it.

But their constituents would like to see a change.

The most recent Winthrop Poll of South Carolinians found that 63 percent favor amending the state Constitution to create an independent commission to be in charge of redrawing district lines after the next census.

The Legislature should pay heed to the people of South Carolina. It’s time to take politics out of the redistricting process.

That’s precisely what Senate minority leader Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, has proposed. Sens. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia, and Mike Fanning, D-Great Falls, are co-sponsors.

Their bill would establish an independent, bipartisan commission to redraw district lines. No elected officials or staff serving on it. No elected officials choosing the members of the commission.

The process appears complicated. But it boils down to one key word: “independent.”

At present, voting district lines in South Carolina are set by legislators who are anything but independent. They gerrymander districts to provide “safe seats” that all but ensure they will win re-election. The districts can end up looking like giant ink blots, so convoluted that even the incumbent representatives might not be sure of all the people they include.

“As long as legislators are drawing the district lines, the impulse to gerrymander will be irresistible,” Sen. Setzler says.

Here’s what’s wrong with that. “Safe seats” discourage people from running against an incumbent or his party. And because the legislators feel secure, they have less incentive to seek bipartisan solutions.

Further, when the Legislature decides how to redraw district lines, you can count on the map being challenged in court. Mr. Setzler believes that a map crafted by an independent, bipartisan commission would be less likely to result in litigation.

And, he says, without having to deal with the time-consuming redistricting process, legislators have more time to tend to issues that constituents expect them to focus on, like fixing crumbling roads and bridges, getting the state pension fund out of the red and improving public education.

Mr. Setzler tells us that he has been amazed by the number of people who have called, written or stopped him on the street to applaud his efforts to amend the redistricting process. He says people are not satisfied with how things are working in the Legislature and especially in Congress.

The bill would empower the state inspector general (who is appointed by the governor) to pick a three-person panel whose job would be to appoint nine people to a Reapportionment Commission to draw district maps according to established criteria. None of those people could have held public office during the past 10 years. None could have worked for a political party or campaign, registered as a lobbyist or contributed $ 2,000 or more to a candidate in that time.

Another key word is “transparent.” All deliberations of the commission would be open to the public.

Guidelines are already established for how districts should be drawn. In addition to the legal mandate that district lines not be drawn so as to improperly dilute minorities’ voting power, districts must be geographically contiguous, geographically compact and respectful of the integrity of cities, counties and communities.

One need only look at a map to see that those guidelines aren’t presently followed. An independent commission would be more likely to do so.

If approved by the General Assembly, Sen. Setzler’s proposal would go to a statewide referendum so voters can determine whether to change the process or not.

Legislators should give their constituents the opportunity to decide the issue. If the latest results of the Winthrop Poll are any indication, the change would be a foregone conclusion.

Legislators have a duty to do the right thing by their constituents, not to protect their own self-interest in anticipation of a re-election challenge. An equitable, coherent and transparent change in the process of redrawing legislative and congressional districts is in order.




Feb. 27

The Aiken Standard on a bill to block plastic bag bans:

Our position concerning plastic bag bans is the same now as it was in August – while the intent behind the ban concept is noble, we don’t think legislatively eliminating plastic bags is the answer.

It should be an individual choice of residents everywhere to decide whether or not they wish to substitute reusable bags for plastic ones.

That said, we are joining the chorus of plastic bag opponents who oppose legislative efforts to block local governments from banning plastic bags. Our rationale, however, is a little bit different.

The reason we don’t think the S.C. General Assembly should institute a ban on plastic bag bans is the same as why we oppose bag bans to begin with – legislation isn’t the answer; education is.

In our view, local governments ought to have the ability to regulate themselves without interference from Columbia. Counties and cities often cry foul when they perceive the state is treading on their turf, striking at the heart of home rule, which grants local governments certain levels of autonomy.

In this case, we’re inclined to agree.

According to the Associated Press, plastic bag bans are already in effect in Folly Beach and Isle of Palms. Such bans make sense there, supporters say, since these are oceanfront, tourism-reliant communities that would suffer deleterious environmental impacts should stormwater runoff ferry plastic bags into the ocean.

Inland, it becomes more of an issue of stormwater drains getting clogged with plastic bags, sometimes along with their contents. In August, efforts to institute a bag ban in Aiken didn’t gain much support at the local government level.

S.C. Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville, cites “uniformity” as why banning plastic bag bans is necessary. Uniformity is a noble goal, but we think uniformity should manifest itself in limiting legislative influence over local government, not enhancing it.

Bedingfield makes a compelling argument that government ought not interfere with interactions between businesses and consumers. We agree with that laissez-faire notion. But by the same token, efforts to eliminate plastic bag bans fall into this save category. Government is still imposing more regulations; it’s just imposing them differently.

Besides, it’s often in a business’ best interests to provide reusable bags without government influence. Environmentally mindful consumers will naturally gravitate toward businesses adopting green policies, allowing the free market to prevail instead of more legislation.

We understand – sympathize even – with the issues surrounding plastic bag bans. And while we don’t agree with municipalities instituting the bans, we think they have the right to govern themselves.

Education, not legislation, will continue to be the best way to address environmental concerns such as plastic bag litter.




March 1

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on immigration and health care concerns:

Rossy, Edikan and Erick came to South Carolina as children with their parents from Honduras, Nigeria and Mexico. They are among the state’s 9,000 “Dreamer Kids” — one of the top priorities of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center.

“A lot of immigrants are facing uncertainty,” says Sue Berkowitz, director of the center in Columbia.

The Dreamers, especially, have been left wondering if they might be targeted for deportation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued new guidelines on undocumented immigrants. So far in the Trump administration, Dreamers are protected by DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals), the order signed by President Obama.

Sen. Lindsay Graham has proposed the BRIDGE Act, for Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy.

“We’re working with Sen. Graham (for passage of the federal legislation),” Berkowitz said.

She described the legislation as “the bridge to helping these kids have the ability to stay here, and have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.”

In late April, the center will conduct “training for lawyers to understand immigration law.”

On health care, potential changes in Medicaid, proposed in Congress, are of major concern in South Carolina. About a million S.C. residents have health care coverage through Medicaid. The S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center website says “60 percent of all births and 75 percent of all nursing homes are covered by Medicaid.” Of the million people covered, more than 630,000 are children.

“We are not a legal aid office,” Berkowitz says, although the justice center started in 1979 as a backup for legal aid services. “Our organization addresses issues systematically. Our focus is providing legal advocacy for social, economic and legal justice issues.”

Berkowitz, with the center since 1989, says “we are small but mighty.” Several years ago, the center went from an office of five to an office of one when Congress stopped funding. Now, the center has a staff of 10, including four attorneys. It affiliated with Appleseed, a national network, in 1999. Appleseed has public interest law offices in 17 locations around the country.

The S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center receives no direct federal or state government funding. Its approximately $ 850,000 operating budget comes from grants and donations. “We worked really closely with the late Sen. Clemanta Pinckney,” one of the victims of the Charleston church slayings.

The center’s Award for Justice has been named in honor of Pinckney. The award is given at an annual fund-raising reception.

Other issues for the center are predatory lending, child health insurance, human trafficking, identity theft, welfare and hunger. As one might imagine, “raising funds for the kind of work we do can be tough.”



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Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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