Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

(Columbia) The State. Sept. 3, 2021.

Editorial: COVID wins big in SC Supreme Court, ball is in Legislature’s court to revisit mask ban

COVID-19 was the big winner in today’s South Carolina Supreme Court.

In a 5-0 decision, the court ruled that a poorly-conceived proviso in the state budget is the law of the land and that means local cities and towns like Columbia cannot enact or enforce local mask mandates for our school children.

“I used that mechanism in the power of the purse in the state budget to protect our citizens and protect their liberty against what was going on with masks and vaccines,” Rep. Stewart Jones, R-Laurens told The State of the language he crafted.

The proviso reads, “No school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities. This prohibition extends to the announcement or enforcement of any such policy.”

With today’s ruling, those two sentences effectively prevent communities across South Carolina from taking every possible measure to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.

Jones introduced the measure when cases were dropping and South Carolinians seemed to return to some sense of normalcy, but in a few short months the situation is very different, something the elected officials in Columbia recognized.

After Mayor Stephen Benjamin declared a state of emergency, Columbia challenged the proviso by enacting a local city ordinance requiring masks for school children in grades K-12. State Attorney General Alan Wilson filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the mandate and on Thursday the court ruled that the Columbia ordinance cannot stand.

In a 14-page ruling, the court found that “the City’s legal opinion is incorrect” and that the city does not have the authority to impose and enforce the mask mandate ordinance.

The opinion states, “We fully recognize that strong and passionate opinions exist on both sides of this debate. Yet, we must remind ourselves, the parties, and the public that, as part of the judicial branch of government, we are not permitted to weigh in on the merits of the facemask debate. Rather, we are a court that is constitutionally bound by the rule of law—specifically, separation of powers—to interpret and apply existing laws; we do not, and cannot, set public policy ourselves. Instead, the people of South Carolina, through their elected state representatives, set the state’s policy.”

In this case, that policy was the proviso inserted in the budget with little fanfare at the time.

“We appreciate that the South Carolina legislature and the City of Columbia have differing views on whether parents of school children should decide whether their children must wear masks at school or whether the government should mandate that decision,” Justice Kittredge wrote.

He continued, “While allowing school districts flexibility to encourage one policy or the other, the state legislature has elected to leave the ultimate decision to parents. Conversely, the City of Columbia has attempted to mandate masks for all school children by following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which has the effect of disallowing parents a say in the matter.”

Where does that leave South Carolina?

As of Aug. 31, just 48% of the state’s residents were fully vaccinated and 10,743 of our residents have died from COVID-19.

Schools that opened just days ago are switching to virtual learning again and again as positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Our hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

And the country’s leading health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, still lists getting vaccinated and wearing masks among the top actions we can do to protect ourselves.

The court’s ruling may on its face be about “the rule of law” as Wilson said in a statement issued today, but in reality it is about our ability as a society to work together for the sake of public health and to protect the most vulnerable among us.

The State Legislature has an opportunity here.

Senate President Harvey Peeler can call for an emergency session and the legislature can revisit the mask mandate ban.

As cases climb and the number of deaths increase, it is the right decision to make.

Give South Carolina a fighting chance.

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The (Charleston) Post and Courier. Sept. 4, 2021.

Editorial: The need to protect Charleston is even clearer

No one should have been too shocked when the city of Charleston added $1 billion to its previous estimate of how much it will cost to address its chronic flooding and to prepare for rising seas.

That is a shocking amount of money, but the original 2017 estimate of $2 billion was calculated simply to prove city officials were taking the issue seriously after Charleston suffered consecutive years of damaging floods. It was widely understood the number would change significantly as specific projects were conceived, approved, designed and built over the coming decades.

One major change in Charleston during the past four years has been its opportunity to partner with the Army Corps of Engineers to build a protective barrier, about 8 miles long, around the city’s peninsula. That project originally was estimated at $1.7 billion, then revised down to $1.5 billion. The price tag will continue to bounce around as long as the city and the Corps are working to build it, a process expected to take many years.

In the coming weeks, the Corps is scheduled to release a much-anticipated draft of its environmental impact study — a document that will update the project’s cost as well as its potential harm to historic sites, views, habitats and community resources. A public meeting and 45-day public comment period will follow, and it’s vital that as many of Charleston’s leaders and residents participate as possible.

This idea isn’t perfect, but it increasingly looks like it’s necessary — and by far the city’s greatest chance to attract significant outside funding to address its myriad stormwater and sea level needs. The city’s Dutch Dialogues report also endorsed the idea — essentially turning peninsular Charleston into a polder, a piece of low-lying land protected from rivers and the sea by dikes. They’re commonly found in the Netherlands, where residents have a long history of coexisting with water.

“I just firmly believe this is needed for our city long term for the effects of these powerful storms, storm surge and sea level rise all combined,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said. “We’re learning to live with water, but at the same time, we will need the pumps and infrastructure to protect this city. ... This is the sledgehammer in the toolbox; it’s an important piece.”

We continue to encourage the Corps’ leadership and Congress to broaden the cost-benefit analysis beyond the potential damage to buildings from a storm surge so the federal government could contribute to more than just keeping water out.

And we urge the mayor and City Council to ensure that master planning for the city’s other stormwater needs continues apace so all residents and council members — no matter where they live — feel comfortable that the peninsula barrier work would not adversely affect them, either by directing water their way or draining city coffers so there’s no money left for other needed drainage work.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida that flooded parts of the Northeast last week reminded us again that storms don’t have to barrel in from the sea to bring death and destruction.

The success of New Orleans’ new perimeter protection system in preventing flooding from Ida is an encouraging sign, as was Venice’s success last October when its 78 floodgates were raised to block three inlets into the Venetian lagoon, keeping the high tide from swamping the historic city. Some see man’s efforts to engineer nature as pure folly, but some measures, such as renourishing beaches and building barriers against high water, can make sense — and save money.

For Charleston, the big challenge is how it would raise the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to match the Corps’ contribution. That almost certainly would have to be done over time through multiple sources, and there needs to be more discussion about that.

In the project’s first phase, envisioned along the Ashley River from the Coast Guard Station to The Citadel, the city owns extensive property (the City Marina, Brittlebank Park), the use of which could count toward the city’s share. Those who own property downtown would benefit the most financially and also should contribute to the effort, as should the roughly 7 million tourists who visit Charleston each year.

By year’s end, City Council members are expected to decide whether to move ahead with the Army Corps of Engineers plan. As that vote approaches, it’s up to everyone to learn as much as we can so we can ensure they make the right choice.

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The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat. Sept. 2, 2021.

Editorial: Bill cannot ensure gun responsibility

Virginia Democratic Congressman A. Donald McEachin calls his proposed legislation the Firearm Owners Responsibility and Safety Act. The objective regarding gun safety is a good one but the legislation would have more far-reaching consequences.

The Firearm Owners Responsibility and Safety Act would mandate the use of secure gun storage or safety devices when a firearm is not in use. The bill also promotes the safe storage of firearms through the implementation of a grant program for states to pass and enforce safe storage laws. It would also provide victims and their families with the right to legally seek damages and relief from individuals who improperly store their firearms.

AND the legislation would repeal provisions of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act to allow civil actions to be brought against the gun industry.

Here’s what McEachin has to say about his proposal: “The gun violence epidemic is a public health crisis that continues to destroy the lives of families in the Commonwealth and in communities across the nation. We must take immediate steps to curb gun violence and advance common-sense policy solutions to help reduce the tragic loss of life. I am proud to introduce the Firearm Owners Responsibility and Safety Act to ensure firearms are properly stored, to empower victims to pursue legal recourse in instances of negligent or improper storage, and to hold gun manufacturers more accountable.”

Not surprisingly, the legislation is being endorsed by an advocacy group for trial lawyers.

Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice, stated: “For too long, the gun industry has been provided unparalleled civil liability immunity. Among other common-sense reforms, the Firearm Owners Responsibility and Safety Act rightfully restores the ability of victims to hold manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers of firearms or ammunition responsible when negligent sales lead to harm or death. We look forward to working towards passing this important piece of legislation.”

Again, promoting safety with guns is important but we fear the broader objective here is expanding the ability to take legal action against gun owners and the gun industry.

The key word in the title of the legislation is “responsibility,” which can and should be promoted. Every gun organization and 2nd Amendment advocate promotes gun safety -- and most gun owners are highly safety conscious.

Those illegally using guns are another story. They will not be impacted by this bill, which should be rejected.

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