Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 20

The Index-Journal on calls for the U.S. to heal and unite:

This was being written just 24 hours before noon today, well before the sun had set Tuesday or risen today over the U.S. Capitol.

Much has been done ahead of today’s events, ahead of the transition of power from one president to another. Security detail has always been an element of that preparation, but not the extent seen today.

The transition of power from President Trump to President-elect Biden should be a solemn yet gracious ceremony. It would be ridiculous on its face to believe or think either man could or would be able to fully set aside differences; after all, each represents a different party and, largely, a different set of ideals and political ideology. Still, Americans and the world rightfully have come to expect that grace, goodwill, propriety, decency and decorum take precedence over personal and political differences during our presidential inaugurations.

It is such ceremonial propriety that can help soothe post-election wounds and restore some level of confidence in the people that we will yet survive, despite our political differences, that our democratic republic will remain intact, that — just as throughout our line of presidencies — America has survived. That it still will survive.

The Bushes and Clintons, the Obamas and Trumps — they are recent examples of transition of power with grace.

As this is written, there is tension across the country. Palpable tension. Our hopes and prayers are with those in Washington, D.C. today. While we think it was nothing short of rude that the Trumps would snub the Bidens during today’s transition, we hope and pray that today’s ceremonies will be safe and smooth.

We hope talk of further violence and even civil war is just that — talk. America needs to heal and get behind that which unites us, not that which further drives a wedge. And it needs to begin now.

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com

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Jan. 18

The Post and Courier on reforming South Carolina’s process of distributing tax money for legislator projects:

South Carolina’s Senate has never been known as a reform-minded body. In fact, it was designed from the start to be conservative in the traditional sense of that word: resistant to change, any change, good or bad. And reforms are, by definition, changes. That resistance to change still prevails today — through rules that allow a single senator to prevent debate on all but the most important legislation — regardless of whether the change is good or bad, whether it meets the modern definition of “liberal” or “conservative.”

So it’s particularly encouraging that the Senate is leading the way on reforming South Carolina’s secretive process of doling out tax money for legislators’ favorite projects.

Even before Gov. Henry McMaster could renew his call for earmark reform during his State of the State address on Wednesday, the Senate had already amended its rules with a better reform, designed to remove the secrecy from the process. In fact, that was the first thing the Senate did after it swore in members at last week’s opening of the 2021 General Assembly.

The new rule, designed by Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey, won’t prevent the Legislature from funding boondoggles or even smart programs that simply ought to be paid for by local taxpayers or individuals. But it will ensure that senators, and the public, finally know how money is being spent on those special appropriations, and who is behind them. It does so by prohibiting the Senate from voting on the state budget until the Senate Finance Committee chairman provides a list of all earmarks, along with who requested them, how much they cost and “an explanation of the project or program.” The rule applies to any “appropriation for a specific program or project not originating with a written agency budget request or not included in an appropriations act from the prior fiscal year.”

It also requires a written explanation of any earmarks included in the final version of the budget negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee, although that explanation only has to identify which body made the request.

That points to the obvious shortcoming of the rule: It doesn’t identify the House sponsors of earmarks. House Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith told The Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox last year that he intended to lift the veil of secrecy from House earmarks, but we need more than a single legislator’s promise. The House should adopt its own version of the Senate rule.

Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian, one of the leaders in the bipartisan anti-earmark campaign, told us that while he and Mr. Massey believe the rule will out all those local parks and fire trucks and civic programs that might or might not be worthwhile, “we won’t know until we try to use it” and see whether budget writers discover a way around it.

Critics of the rule predicted precisely that last year when the sponsors rolled out a similar proposal, noting that lawmakers could just go directly to state agency directors and ask them to include their special projects in those agencies’ budgets. And that could happen, but it’s doubtful, because that misunderstands the point and the process of earmarks.

Agency directors wouldn’t grant such requests from most legislators, even if most legislators had the audacity to ask. They fund the earmarks because the money is in the state budget and instructions on how to spend it comes from the House and Senate budget writers or, more often, their staff. Although budget writers certainly claim their share of funding for their own pet projects, they mostly use earmarks as a tool, offering them to legislators who otherwise wouldn’t have the clout to get their projects funded in return for those lawmakers’ vote to pass the entire state budget.

We should never have to do government that way, but perhaps we do. Even so, there’s no justification for the secretive process South Carolina uses: No official budget documents exist to explain or even identify earmarks. The public has no way of finding out what’s being funded until long after the budget has been debated and passed. Most legislators don’t even know.

Hence the new Senate rule, which was tucked into a rewrite of the Senate’s entire set of operating rules — something that is produced every four years after a new Senate is sworn in. While other rule changes attracted extensive debate, no one spoke against the earmark reform.

That’s either a really encouraging sign that senators have finally come to recognize that there is simply no way to defend spending the public’s money so secretly — or else an indication that the reformers have been bamboozled again. Here’s hoping it’s the former.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com

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Jan. 18

The Times and Democrat on reforming voter identification processes:

Before there is a transfer of power after a contentious 2020 election, it’s safe to say that voting and voting rights will be issues again in the push toward midterm elections in 2022. In South Carolina there is no unanimity of opinion on voting laws, but there is at least a measure of stability.

South Carolina is a model for other states on voter identification in that it requires a photo ID but provides that no voter is to be denied the right to vote, with or without a photo ID.

A South Carolina voter at the polls must show a driver’s license, an ID card issued by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles in lieu of a driver’s license, a South Carolina voter registration card that includes a photo, a federal military ID or a U.S. passport. Free photo IDs are available from the DMV or county voter registration offices.

If a voter does not have one of these IDs, he or she may vote a provisional ballot that will count if the person shows a photo ID to the election commission prior to certification of the election (usually Thursday or Friday after the election).

If a person cannot get a photo ID in time for the election, he or she may bring a non-photo voter registration card to the polling place and vote a provisional ballot after signing an affidavit stating he or she has a reasonable impediment to obtaining a photo ID. A reasonable impediment is considered any valid reason, beyond a person’s control, creating an obstacle to obtaining photo identification:

The ballot will count unless someone proves to the election commission that a person is lying about his or her identity or having the listed impediment.

South Carolina is protecting the right of those without a state-issued photo ID but at the same time is moving toward the ideal, which is every voter having such identification.

To further that objective nationally, a concept put forth by Andrew Young, former U.N. ambassador, congressman and mayor of Atlanta, and Martin Luther King III should get a fresh look. Called “No Voter Left Behind,” the idea was developed by Young and Norm Ornstein.

At the LBJ Summit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act on April 9, 2014, they proposed that the Social Security Administration by mail or at each of its roughly 1,300 offices be authorized and equipped to issue – at a citizen’s request – a Social Security card bearing the person’s photo.

A Social Security photo ID would be acceptable as voter ID in any state.

Young and proponents of the program say it would greatly alleviate concerns that voter ID laws disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters simply because they lack photo identification. It would also ensure uninterrupted voting rights if a citizen moves.

The concept makes sense since the Social Security card is the only form of ID to which every American citizen is already entitled. SSA employees are trained to assist citizens in establishing proof of identity and the agency even offers a hotline.

Compared to many programs, the price tag would be minimal. The estimated cost of providing the necessary equipment to each office is $2,000 — $2.5 million nationwide. The actual cost of producing the cards has been estimated at 8 cents each.

In addition to fixed costs, a campaign to alert the public would also be required. The combined costs of these efforts, however, remain tiny as a budgeting matter compared to the benefits conferred — not to mention the costs of litigation surrounding voter IDs.

As an added benefit, photo-bearing Social Security cards would, according to law enforcement, significantly improve the integrity of the I-9 employee-verification process. It would be much harder for workers to use another person’s card.

In a broader societal context, the lack of photo ID is a serious burden on many citizens, especially low-income Americans. This would also address that problem.

Online: https://thetandd.com