Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
Aiken (S.C.) Standard on the Legislature:
Legislators opened the 2013 session in January with a hefty list of crises that demanded an immediate response:
The ethics law was exposed as a self-protection racket for the political class; computer hackers broke into the ill-secured data system of the state Revenue Department and lifted the unencrypted data of more than 6.4 million South Carolinians; 250 candidates were kicked off the ballot because no one noticed a new law that applied only to non-incumbents; the unaccountable elections office in Richland County deployed too few voting machines, forcing thousands of voters to endure waits of up to seven hours, while untold others left without casting a ballot; video gambling interests sold several judges on a ploy to revive their outlawed industry.
All of that was on top of the perennially ignored list of problems that plague our state. ...
Lawmakers did quickly close the video-gambling loophole, and just before they closed the regular session on Thursday, they eliminated the election filing disparity (and, more importantly, stripped political parties of the power to act as state officials, whether they know what they're doing or not). But that's it.
There's still a chance that they could dismantle the Budget and Control Board, giving the governor more power to act like a governor and the Legislature a mandate to act like a legislature, when they return to Columbia later this month to tie up loose ends. And we must hope for that, because it's really the only chance we have left of salvaging a simply dreadful session.
Theoretically, lawmakers could spend our money wisely, since negotiators are still trying to work out a deal on the budget. Realistically, that seems far-fetched. In fact, the defund-the-school crowd has made such strides that it's not inconceivable that we could be looking at the second year in a row when lawmakers can't pass a budget by July 1. ...
Some would argue that given the fixations they entertained this year — from Obamacare "nullification" to guns in bars to empowering people to divert their tax payments to private schools — we should be relieved that lawmakers didn't accomplish more. And they did make enough progress on ethics reform and cyber security that they might manage to act early next session.
But the outlines of what needed to be done to address the crises have been clear for months, and the need to act was obvious. So at half-time of a two-year session, we have every right to be disappointed.
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on making U.S. shield law a high priority for Congress:
Much is written about the public's right to know guaranteed by freedom-of-information acts on the federal and state levels. Sadly, most of the news is about violations by elected officials, government bodies and agencies, and their appointees and employees. The battle to ensure access is a daily one.
But there is a related and growing problem — one that goes to the root of the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment. The press, as watchdog of government, must have the ability to do its work.
A top public policy priority for journalists is enactment of a federal shield law that would enable reporters to protect confidential sources when subpoenaed in criminal and civil cases.
In the wake of recent scandals involving the Justice Department's secret seizure of phone records that swept in communications of more than 100 Associated Press journalists, and the monitoring of Fox News reporter James Rosen's personal email and cellphone records, this legislation is critical to protecting the free flow of information and the public's right to know. ...
In South Carolina, our legislators deserve credit for putting into law that protection for journalists. The General Assembly two decades ago passed a shield law. It grants news organizations limited protection against orders to testify and turn over information in cases about which they have reported.
Most citizens — indeed some in the legal community — know little about the shield law. Others question the need for it. Some say it is not right that a reporter enjoy a shield.
Here's why reporters need such "privilege" and why you should care. ...
A reporter cannot be compelled to testify unless the privilege granted under the law is knowingly waived or the person seeking the information or testimony "establishes by clear and convincing evidence" that such is. ...
On the federal level, lawmakers have failed to approve a shield law. The latest revelations about abuses have efforts being renewed. Passage should be a priority. Protecting journalists from becoming tools of the judicial system is an important aspect of ensuring open government.
The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C., on accommodations tax 30 years later:
A state Supreme Court ruling May 8 shows that in the nearly 30 years since the accommodations tax law was passed, its provisions are still vague enough to provoke frequent fights over use of the funds.
In its opinion, the high court vindicated Myrtle Beach in a dispute with the statewide Tourism Expenditure Review Committee. The court noted it isn't the first time the city has been in a dispute with the panel that was formed to oversee how the money is spent.
The justices reiterated that locations with a high concentration of tourism, as specified in the law, may spend more than some other locations on services including criminal justice, law enforcement, fire protection, solid waste collection and health care, provided the expenditure is based on a percentage of tourism.
And that is essentially what the law was about, in its original concept: that communities heavily impacted by tourism should be able to use accommodations tax, collected from those very tourists, to support services such as additional police, or restrooms, or whatever is needed.
But in the intervening years, many officials have come to believe the money is supposed to be spent on tourism promotion alone, or only on activity that puts "heads on beds."
It was Myrtle Beach that for years demanded authority from the state to raise additional funds to support the demands of tourism. ...
As the legislative session began in 1983, the late state Rep. Harriet Keyserling of Beaufort took up the cause. She was the lead sponsor of the bill. Rep. Pete Pearce of Myrtle Beach and Rep. Lois Eargle of Aynor were among the co-sponsors. Also a sponsor was Rep. Jean Toal of Columbia, now the chief justice of the state Supreme Court who no doubt has a keen eye when legislative intent is examined in A-tax disputes.
Tourism interests led by people such as Ashby Ward, the late president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, helped build a coalition of supporters, as long as the money would not go to the general funds of the cities and counties but would have to be used for tourism promotion.
Keyserling helped broker a compromise with lawmakers from the non-tourism areas with the Robin Hood clause. ...
The law has been good to tourism-impacted areas of the state, but it could be better with a clearer understanding that much of the money is to help with those tourism impacts, and is not solely set aside to advertise to bring in more visitors.