Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Index-Journal. January 18, 2024.

Editorial: Hutto proposal has appeal, but needs vetting

State Sen. Brad Hutto has an interesting proposal, one he made a couple of years ago too, as a means of luring medical doctors into the Palmetto State’s rural areas. Cover a portion of the doctors’ medical school bills.

The concept is nothing new, really. Rural school districts have floated dollar incentives to lure good teachers to areas where they might not otherwise go. People can have their higher education in military schools covered in exchange for years of military service.

Hutto proposes paying up to $30,000 of a student’s medical school bills, beginning in their final year of clinical studies, with the caveat that the student commit to working full time for two years in rural areas or with underserved patients in urban areas. If they work in the community less than 36 hours a week, they would be required to commit to four years there.

Certainly the proposal has an appeal, one that frankly is be more appealing than a federal plan that wipes out student loan debt with few, if any, caveats. The big question, however, is where will the money come from to support such a move? We know the answer. Our tax dollars. So, can it be done without raising taxes on the people?

Would the return on investment be worthwhile? At least the doctors would have skin in the game as opposed to a free ride.

Hutto’s proposal has some rationale to support it. Before it’s given a “yes” vote, however, the details need to be worked out. There needs to be transparency in how the state will foot the bill, what impact it would have on other existing state budget expense columns and clear enforceable accountability guidelines to prevent doctors from reneging on the obligation.

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Post and Courier. January 20, 2024.

Editorial: SC lenders blocked ban on 300% interest. So let’s just ban predatory marketing.

There’s a whole industry out there that makes a living by taking advantage of people who are desperate or unsophisticated or both, luring them into what look like easy loans that trap them in a cycle of perpetual debt because they have to keep taking out new loans, with added fees, to pay off the old ones.

In South Carolina, we have more than our fair share of such people, who find themselves unable to pay for unexpected car repairs or roof repairs or medical bills and assume that their only option is a payday lender or title lender or what’s called an installment lender — an assumption that often is tragically incorrect.

So it’s no surprise that we have more than our fair share of people who are struggling under the burden of loans they couldn’t afford to repay in the first place and certainly can’t afford once each new round of fees is added. The South Carolina Daily Gazette, an online news organization affiliated with the nonprofit States Newsroom, reports that South Carolinians had $2.8 billion in high-interest loan debt in 2022, with $650 million of that two months past due; an estimated 400,000 South Carolinians are struggling to repay these loans.

It’s hard to get a handle on precisely how many states restrict a particular type of predatory loan, but it’s clear that South Carolina coddles these lenders more than most other states, which have stricter regulations. Georgia and North Carolina, for instance, have banned payday lending.

South Carolina did put some restrictions on payday lenders back in 2009, but those businesses are still thriving, as is the industry as a whole, thanks not only to high interest rates but also to predatory lending practices.

For years now, religious leaders and other advocates for the poor have joined with credit unions to try to convince the Legislature to cap the annualized rate of interest on non-conventional loans at 36% — the amount the federal government caps loans to members of our armed services. And for years, the lenders have fought off those efforts.

This year, Sen. Tom Davis has joined the effort and brought a new approach: Instead of limiting interest rates — which a lot of people believe isn’t the government’s business — his S.910 would outlaw predatory practices. Among the most egregious is sending what are called “courtesy” or live checks to consumers in hopes that they’ll cash them and in so doing lock themselves into a loan with a triple-digit interest rate.

If the check-mailing scheme sounds familiar, it’s because shady financial companies have been doing that to trick people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and other particularly vulnerable people into trading millions of dollars in future payments from personal injury lawsuits for a few thousand dollars; the Legislature outlawed that practice last year.

Sen. Davis’ bill also would outlaw making a loan without first conducting an analysis of the borrower’s ability to repay it, making a loan that the analysis shows the borrower doesn’t have the ability to pay off, flipping some types of loans and flipping others beyond a limited number of times.

There are provisions in the bill that free-market advocates legitimately object to — notably a provision that would outlaw marketing to low-income communities. That’s not the case for most of the provisions.

Although a lot of legislators object on principle to laws designed to protect people from themselves — at least when it comes to financial matters — we already have laws in place to protect people with regular paychecks who use traditional financial institutions. This would extend those protections to institutions that market to people who can’t imagine they could get a loan from traditional institutions.

And by providing a little consumer protection to some of our most vulnerable neighbors, the Legislature could reduce the chance that they’d get suckered into an unending cycle of debt that drives them further into poverty and the need for public assistance.

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Times and Democrat. January 20, 2024.

Editorial: Trafficking in humans is threat here too

The flood of people crossing the southern U.S. border will have a far-reaching impact on the country. Not the least of the problems is the criminal element involved in smuggling people.

Make no mistake, however, human trafficking is a nationally problem even if border issues are resolved today.

How bad is it in the United States?

The National Human Trafficking Hotline and others estimate that between 15,000 and 50,000 women and children are forced into sexual slavery in the United States every year. Of the more than 365,000 missing children in the country each year, 30% are being trafficked.

South Carolina and Orangeburg are not immune.

State Attorney General Alan Wilson, chair of the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force, recently released an annual report detailing the magnitude of human trafficking here.

In 2023, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division reported opening 357 cases that included nearly 500 potential victims, most of those minors being sex trafficked. SLED’s data also showed that human trafficking cases were opened in 40 counties, with only six not reporting any cases.

The counties with the most cases in 2023 are Richland (43), Greenville (34), Horry and Aiken (24 each), Berkeley (23), Charleston, Spartanburg, and Lexington (21 each), Dorchester (18), and York (13).

The National Human Trafficking Hotline data show that two counties tied for the most incidents reported to the hotline. Greenville and Horry ranked number one, Charleston County was second, followed by Richland and Spartanburg tied for third. Aiken ranked fourth.

Orangeburg and Lexington counties tied for fifth place.

“Human trafficking continues to grow in South Carolina, just as it does around the country and the world. Last year, we saw an increase in the number of victims. That shows that we need to continue our work and do everything we can to raise awareness of this crime so the public can know what to look for and report what they see,” Wilson said.

Of note, Wilson and the task force announced the launch of TravelWatchSC during this National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The campaign has begun at three major airports: Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and Myrtle Beach International Airport.

The airports began running digital signs featuring the National Human Trafficking Hotline contact information. Each location will also share hotline posters and stickers as well as educational brochures that include information about regional task forces.

Awareness of the trafficking threat – especially affecting children – is vital.

In Wilson’s words, “Human trafficking happens in our back yards. Most of the time, it’s not far off in exotic places, but in our local communities. Raising awareness is critical to fighting human trafficking.”

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