Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

(Columbia) The State. Oct. 5, 2021.

Editorial: McMaster’s pledge for I-73 funding is not best use of COVID relief funding as SC recovers

Certainly, we welcome construction of I-73, a project decades in the making that would ultimately benefit the state’s tourism economy and increase much-needed coastal evacuation routes during severe weather.

This week, Gov. Henry McMaster pledged $300 million in state funding to support the project, which currently has an estimated total price tag of well over $1 billion. We welcome McMaster’s commitment to the project, too.

“I believe that I-73 will be a transformative component in South Carolina,” McMaster said. “... This new interstate will collect supply chains to efficiently move goods and services across our state.”

Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have been working on plans to raise money for the project, which McMaster said would need a local contribution of about $350 million, a federal contribution of $430 million and a total of $795 million from the state.

But while McMaster’s pledge would be a significant contribution, as our reporters noted, that $300 million isn’t really McMaster’s to give. “The state legislature will still have to vote to approve the funding.”

So, the question is will the Legislature go along with McMaster’s plan?

GOP Rep. William Bailey, who represents Horry County, doesn’t think so.

“In South Carolina, only the General Assembly has budget responsibility and the power to designate monies for various projects throughout the state. It is unlikely the General Assembly will have the appetite to justify to their constituents the Governor’s proposal,” Bailey wrote in a statement.

Bailey, also citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, said the Governor’s timing was off.

“For me, for the Governor to make this announcement at this time is one of the most irresponsible actions I have witnessed in my three years representing the amazing people of District 104,” Bailey wrote.

Bailey said the state is still “battling COVID-19” and must prioritize the needs of our hospitals and first responders. “Health and safety should always be our first priority,” he said.

He then explained that it is the everyday infrastructure - the roads and bridges residents use to get to work, to get to school, to get to the grocery store - that need attention first.

“On multiple occasions, elected officials have been told there are no monies for our deteriorating and unsafe local roads in Horry County. These are roads that our residents use every day and desperately need to ensure their quality of life. These are the roads that should take priority over I-73,” Bailey explained.

He also opposed McMaster’s pronouncements regarding the American Rescue Plan funds for projects not tied to the pandemic.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey may have started that trend when she announced plans to use as much as $400 million of her state’s coronavirus relief funds to build new prisons. Her plan has been widely criticized, but Ivey noted in a Twitter statement that the law allows the funds to be used to replace lost revenue and gives wide latitude to states.

If Bailey’s response is any indication, the governor may be hard pressed to win support for his pledge among his own party and the search for funding will continue.

“I recognize and appreciate that the tourism industry is extremely important to our economy and many people have worked long and hard for the I-73 project. However, it cannot come at the price of the quality of life for South Carolinians who have endured so many hardships as a result of the Covid -19 crisis,” Bailey wrote.

The reality is the pandemic is not over.

More than 12,700 of our fellow residents are dead and just about 52.6% of our residents are fully vaccinated. Schools and hospitals are still struggling, and businesses across the Palmetto state need support to survive.

Bailey is right. As much as I-73 could benefit our state in the long run, we have to focus on the here and now, using all the federal funds available to support our communities in their recovery from the devastating effects of COVID-19.

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The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat. Oct. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Protecting women in harm’s way

For a society that professes to celebrate women, there are disturbing realities.

A national survey in 2019 concluded that one in 16 U.S. women say their first sexual experience was forced or coerced intercourse in their early teens.

The experiences of 3.3 million women between ages 18 and 44 amount to rape, according to the authors of the study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

And too often, violence against women goes beyond rape — resulting in death. South Carolina has a real problem with men killing women.

The state ranks sixth in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men, according to the most recent edition of the annual Violence Policy Center study “When Men Murder Women.” The state’s rate of 2.15 per 100,000 is nearly twice the national rate.

In the 24-year history of the study, South Carolina has ranked within the top 10 states for the rate of women murdered by men every year with the exception of last year’s edition, which presented data from 2018.

National statistics from the study include:

— Nationwide, 1,795 females were murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2019, at a rate of 1.18 per 100,000. Of the 1,795 female homicide victims, 1,166 were white, 501 were Black, 53 were Asian or Pacific Islander, 39 were American Indian or Alaskan Native, and in 36 cases the race of the victim was not identified.

— Nine out of 10 victims (91%) knew their offenders. Of the victims who knew their offenders, 62% were wives or other intimate acquaintances of their killers. Ten times as many females were murdered by a male they knew than were killed by male strangers.

— Black women are disproportionately impacted by lethal domestic violence. In 2019, Black females were murdered by males at a rate of 2.34 per 100,000, more than twice the rate of 0.99 per 100,000 for white women murdered by men.

— Firearms were the weapons most commonly used by males to murder females in 2019. Nationwide, for homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 58% of female victims were shot and killed with a gun. Of the homicides committed with guns, 65 percent were killed with handguns.

— The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance was more than 3-1/2 times the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined.

— The overwhelming majority of these homicides were not related to any other felony crime, such as rape or robbery. Nationwide, for homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 85% of the homicides were not related to the commission of another felony. Most often, females were killed by males in the course of an argument between the victim and the offender.

Each year the VPC releases this report in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. The study uses 2019 data, the most recent year for which information is available. The study covers homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender using data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

The study again found that 91% of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew. The violence is not random.

Advocates and community leaders are working to reduce the toll of domestic violence but there clearly is much more work to be done to protect women in harm’s way. And, sadly, the 2020 numbers from amid the pandemic due out next year may be worse.

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The (Charleston) Post and Courier. Oct. 2, 2021.

Editorial: Too many SC inmates are dying, and we don’t know how or why. How to change it

Since the beginning of 2015, 101 South Carolinians have been shot and killed by police. Some were shooting at or in other ways posed a danger to the police, others didn’t, but that’s not the point here. In that same period, at least 146 have died in local jails in our state. Over the past 12½ years, the total was at least 253, according to a new database of jail deaths.

There’s so much to unpack there, but let’s start with the easiest: That database wasn’t created by local, state or federal officials. It was created by Hilton Head’s Island Packet newspaper, because no local, state or federal officials maintain such a database, at least not a complete one, and the newspaper figured — correctly — that we ought to know how many people die in government custody.

The newspaper’s list was pieced together using news reports, reports that jails are supposed to send to the state Corrections Department and reports that coroners are supposed to send to the state Department of Public Safety under a new federal law. Supposed to are key words. The newspaper found 30 deaths that hadn’t been reported to either agency (coroners reported just two of at least 23 jail deaths in 2020); it expressed no confidence that it had found them all.

In 52 cases that were reported as required by law, the cause of death wasn’t given. Of those where it was given, 66 people committed suicide. At least 18 died in the Charleston County Jail, which tied for second with Spartanburg and Richland and trailed only Greenville County, which had at least 27 jail deaths.

These weren’t all hardened criminals dying in our jails. A tiny fraction of inmates in county jails are serving sentences of less than a year after being convicted for minor, nonviolent crimes. The vast majority are awaiting trial, because they can’t afford bail — many arrested for petty crimes whose sentences might not even include any jail time.

The Island Packet’s database shows that at least 205 of the dead — 87% of the 236 deaths where custody status was available — had not been convicted of a crime.

Slap a serious sanction on jails that don’t send in their skimpy one-page reports when people die in their custody, and we’d probably have fairly complete information. Add the salary of, oh, a quarter of a full-time employee, and the Corrections Department could build an easy-to-use, searchable database — like the one the newspaper created and has made public — that could be updated monthly or even weekly.

That’s something the Legislature needed to do when The Post and Courier revealed the problem in 2019, and it’s something the Legislature should do today. And we don’t just need to know how many people died in our jails and when and where. We also need thorough investigations by independent investigators and not by the sheriff departments that run the jails.

Those investigations are crucial because some of these deaths are homicides, which means either another inmate or a jail official killed someone and should be prosecuted. We also need to know about suicides, accidents and medical problems that lead to deaths, because those investigations can identify changes — such as better monitoring or medical care — that could prevent similar deaths.

Of course, the reason the Legislature hasn’t put any teeth into the 1978 law requiring jails to report deaths, and why it hasn’t required independent investigations of jail deaths (just as it hasn’t required independent investigations of people killed by police) is that inmates’ deaths aren’t important to enough legislators. They’re not important to enough legislators because they’re not important to enough voters. And they’re not important to enough voters because … we don’t know … maybe because there aren’t enough Christians in South Carolina?

Not to single out a religion — we all are supposed to care about human lives, after all, and particularly human lives that are lost when the state, on our behalf, has them in custody.

But people who claim to be Christians do constitute the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians, and Christians were told very specifically by Jesus to care about prisoners and others in need, because “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

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