Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Post and Courier. May 7, 2024.

Editorial: 3 days and 2 reforms that could transform 2024 SC legislative session

With three days remaining, there’s still time for the S.C. Legislature to salvage something substantive from a 2024 session that’s on track to have little to show for itself except more red meat for the GOP base — and possibly not even enough of that to save some Republicans from their primary challengers. But the clock’s ticking.

One huge win is within reach, if the House will act today or Wednesday, and then if the House and Senate will dig themselves out of their silly holes and reach an agreement on a bill to merge six health agencies that have a huge overlap of clients but a huge deficit of communication and coordination. That deficit leads to duplication that drives up taxpayers’ costs and drives down quality of services, making it less likely that poor parents can care for themselves or their children without other state assistance.

A thorough examination by national and state experts concluded that South Carolina has the nation’s most disjointed health delivery service. The result is that we’re paying more money and getting worse outcomes than most states. S.915 would address that problem by merging the departments of Mental Health, Aging, Disabilities and Special Needs, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, Health and Human Services and the health side of DHEC.

For more than half a century, these many departments have been the poster child for a disorganized government that was created ad hoc by legislators back when they never imagined they might allow a governor to actually run the executive branch of government. It never made sense, but now that the governor is set to control all health agencies come July 1, it’s even more nonsensical, because it contributes to an unmanageable span of control that makes it less likely that he can prevent problems or fix them when they occur.

Special interests and agency leaders have always been able to defeat less ambitious versions of this effort, but they seemed to be outgunned by legislative leaders this year — until some out-of-touch-with-reality social media hangers-on started spouting claims that the merger would “install a Dr. Fauci over the state.” No matter how bad you might think that would be, the claim is worse than ludicrous.

Although the House already passed a bill that does the same thing, it needs to give S.915 a second and third reading this week so negotiators can spend the next month working out a tiny difference in the two versions that’s mostly about hurt feelings and playing into misperceptions. But the House has been holding up debate on several Senate bills to force the Senate to pass a utility bill that needs more vetting. There are multiple reasonable ways to end that standoff so lawmakers can get on to S.915 and other important measures, and that needs to happen.

The second win that’s within lawmakers’ reach wouldn’t be as huge as it ought to be, but it still can be a significant improvement in a state that has always shut the governor completely out of the process of selecting upper court judges. In addition to undermining the idea of checks and balance in our government, the current arrangement has undermined public confidence in our judiciary by allowing lawyer-legislators to abuse their extensive influence to help themselves and their clients.

What we need is for the governor to appoint the members of the committee that decides which candidates the Legislature may elect. The Senate version of S.1046 and the version approved by the House Judiciary Committee and blessed by Speaker Murrell Smith would give the governor just a third of the appointments to the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, which is now controlled completely by legislators with no input from the governor. Both versions of the bill also aim to reduce the influence individual legislators can have on the panel.

The two versions have several differences, the biggest of which is that the House version also would subject magistrates to a screening process and end the built-in corruption of allowing magistrates to serve indefinitely in hold-over status after their term ends, which transforms them into at-will employees of the local senator.

Although the House engaged the reform effort before the Senate — holding a groundbreaking series of public hearings in the fall that unmasked some of the most troublesome aspects of the system — only the Senate has passed a reform bill. That bill was approved by a House committee only last week; like the health agencies bill, it will die if the House doesn’t debate and give it second reading either today or Wednesday, and final reading by Thursday. As with the health bill, House passage this week would give negotiators another month to work out the differences.

The problem with this bill isn’t special interests or crazy conspiracy theories but something far more basic: the fundamental question of whether legislative leaders actually support reforming our judicial selection system. If they do, the House will send the bill back to the Senate this week. If they don’t, this massive effort will die without the dignity of a vote.


Times and Democrat. May 4, 2024.

Editorial: Agriculture: Good news amid sadness

The H5N1 virus recently infected dairy cows for the first time, raising concerns about the bird flu’s potential implications for humans.

Orangeburg and surrounding counties are a mecca for agriculture. What happens with farming is relevant here in just about every way you can describe.

Protecting agriculture and ensuring its future in a growing state is more relevant than ever. It takes people and those leading people.

The latter, those leading on the state level, have taken a key step.

Gov. Henry McMaster was joined April 23 by S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers, members of the General Assembly, and other state and local leaders for a ceremonial bill signing of H.3951, the Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act. The legislation creates the Working Farmland Protection Fund that will help landowners preserve working agricultural lands through voluntary conservation easements.

The people of South Carolina agriculture can rejoice. The legislation provides a tool to protect the future of farming in the face of unprecedented growth and development.

“Farmers are the backbone of our state, and as more businesses and people move here, we must find innovative ways to protect our state’s most valuable farmlands,” McMaster said. “This legislation provides farmers a cost-effective option to keep and pass down their families’ farms while ensuring that our state’s agriculture industry remains strong and our most precious natural resources aren’t lost forever to overdevelopment.”

As we celebrate the new legislation, we give thanks for the lives of two locals having been key players in agriculture

Reka Bell Wimberly, 81, of Branchville died April 20. She was known for her involvement in her family farm operation, Wimco Farms, where she was recognized for her daily lunches. She also served as president of Bowman Gin Company.

She was dedicated to the Orangeburg County Farm Bureau, serving as Women’s Committee Chair.

Philip “Phil” Sandifer, Bamberg County native and Blackville resident, died April 18. A leader and pioneer in agriculture, he was owner and operator of Phil Sandifer and Sons Farms.

Quoting his obituary: “He was always willing to try new and innovative ways to increase production on his farm. He won multiple state and county awards. In 1996, he won the Southeast Region High Cotton Award and also later won the Grower Award from Farm-Wey Produce.”

So many, living and deceased, have played major roles in local agriculture. We thank them even as we remember Wimberly and Sandifer in this key time for farming.

We are certain they would join Bowman resident and S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers in saying of the new Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act:

“I’m pleased to join South Carolina leaders in giving farmers options for preserving their working lands. This important new legislation helps us continue to feed people and fuel our economy while protecting our state’s agricultural past, present, and future.”


Index-Journal. May 4, 2024.

Editorial: Right this wrong, SC lawmakers

South Carolina still bears a shameful reputation.

Despite our beautiful shoreline and our inviting regions venturing west of the coast all the way to the foothills that invite us all to visit the mountains, we have a dark side that has yet to be fully and effectively addressed.

Reference here is to cases of domestic violence.

As reported earlier this week by the S.C. Daily Gazette, making matters worse is that so many victims of domestic violence go weeks on end without legal protection. This seems to be a particularly worse issue in rural counties and along the Grand Strand.

As the Gazette’s Jessica Holdman reported, the Palmetto State is the only one in the country without temporary, emergency protective orders doled out by judges for victims who file for safeguards ahead of a hearing for long-term approval.

Why does that matter?

A victim of domestic abuse who reports the abuse stands a great chance of retaliatory action by the abuser. With no temporary protective order from a judge, her accused abuser can still access a gun while awaiting a hearing. A protective order would allow a judge to require the abuser to turn in any guns they have in their possession for as few as six months and as long as a year. Moreover, they would be disqualified from buying a gun via the background checks for the duration of the order.

Someone who has committed an act of domestic violence is hardly likely to cool down in the 14 days and even longer timespan between a court filing and hearing.

So yes, it’s important that South Carolina catch up to the other 49 states that have more sensible laws to protect victims of domestic violence.

Maybe, just maybe one day our learned and caring lawmakers will return to Columbia and right this wrong.