- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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March 4

The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on Sen. Tom Corbin’s comment and a domestic violence bill:

South Carolina lawmakers should not confuse the issues of gun rights and domestic violence any more than an Upstate senator should confuse jokes with sexist remarks.

Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Travelers Rest, has apologized to Lexington County Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy, the upper chamber’s only female member, for a comment he made while the lawmakers were dining with a group in February.

That Corbin would make the comment and consider it a joke may somehow be reflective of the relationship he has with Shealy as a desk mate in the Senate, but it is hardly surprising the Lexington lawmaker reacted as she did, publicly stating she does not consider many of Corbin’s past comments to be “jokes.”

As reported by The Associated Press, Corbin referred to women as a “lesser cut of meat,” with the comment coming after the group of lawmakers was served a rack of ribs.

Shealy said Corbin was referring to rib meat, after saying God made Eve from Adam’s rib. Corbin said the rack of ribs “reminded me of an old joke.”

“We were all joking and laughing,” said Corbin, R-Travelers Rest. “We cut up together.”

He also told others at the table that he “got her wearing shoes,” referring to women being barefoot and pregnant, Shealy told the AP.

“You’ve pushed me far enough,” she said she replied. “I worked three times harder than you did to get here … I deserve respect, and I’m going to get it.”

Corbin said he can’t recall Shealy ever complaining to him, adding that she’s teased him about being overweight and bald.

As disturbing as it is that a state senator cannot distinguish between joking and what in most settings could constitute sexual harassment, the controversy extended to an important piece of legislation.

The AP reported that both lawmakers agreed the restaurant exchange occurred after they disagreed on the gun provision of legislation aimed at curbing domestic violence. That provision seeks to prevent abusers from having easy access to guns.

Corbin said he supports other parts of the bill but believes a restraining order is no reason to take away someone’s 2nd Amendment rights. Shealy supports the guns restrictions for domestic violence offenders.

To its credit, the full Senate agrees with Shealy.

The Senate has approved by a 38-3 vote a measure that takes away firearms from many people convicted of criminal domestic violence. Much of the debate centered on guns, with opponents worried that allowing the ban to be automatic for all convictions might take away weapons from people who didn’t deserve to lose their gun rights.

The Senate decided the gun ban would require a judge’s approval for the least-serious offenses. A provision adding that requirement cleared the way for approval of the bill to strengthen domestic violence penalties across the board.

The legislation and its gun provisions still must pass the House, which is considering a domestic violence bill with a less-stringent gun ban. But there is optimism that the two sides will come together and pass legislation designed to curb domestic violence - and in particular violence against women - in a state where it is epidemic.

Taking guns out of the equation when there is a history of domestic violence is an important step, though a true reduction in incidents will only come with people ensuring the well being of others through mutual respect.

As much as Sen. Corbin may argue that his words to Sen. Shealy were only a joke, he must surely be aware there are many men in this state who consider disrespecting women with words and actions, to the point of violence, to be acceptable behavior.

And while the senator may refrain from further comments based on Shealy’s protests, in incident after incident, day after day, the protests of many South Carolina women do no good. The law must do more to make these victims’ voices heard and punish those who are their abusers.

Online:

https://thetandd.com

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March 4

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on a bike lane:

Last week, two bicyclists died on Charleston area roads in fewer than 24 hours. Both were hit by cars. The authorities classified both incidents as hit-and-run cases. And both tragedies might have been avoided with a greater focus on bicycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.

The first accident occurred last Wednesday night in North Charleston near the intersection of Cosgrove Avenue and Azalea Drive; the second on Thursday night on the Stono River Bridge between James and Johns islands. Neither area has any sort of bicycle or pedestrian access, despite proximity to residential neighborhoods and key highways.

Unfortunately, that lack of access is the rule rather than the exception for much of South Carolina. The state invested the third lowest amount nationwide in bike and pedestrian infrastructure last year, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Not coincidentally, South Carolina ranked fourth in the country in bike and pedestrian deaths.

In the city of Charleston, nearly 30 percent of traffic fatalities last year were pedestrians and 8 percent were bicyclists, despite the fact that only about 7 percent of Charlestonians commute on foot or by bike.

That is unacceptable.

As Lowcountry leaders - and their colleagues statewide - struggle to accommodate increasing traffic on aging, dangerous roads, any discussion of potential solutions must include better investment in alternative transportation.

After all, if more and more people get around on bikes, buses or by foot, fewer cars will burden roads.

But biking or walking to work, school or any other destination is too often a risky endeavor. In order to encourage more people to leave their cars at home, there must be a safe, efficient alternative.

To that end, the city of Charleston should establish a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plan. That goal should be all the more apparent as the city moves forward with paving more of the West Ashley Greenway and creating a bike lane on the Legare Bridge - two major new bicycle infrastructure improvements.

Fortunately, those highly visible projects represent a broader push in the Lowcountry to make alternative transportation a priority. Indeed, the city of Charleston alone spent more than $3 million last year on bicycle and pedestrian projects - a large sum for a city of its size.

But there is still plenty of work to be done, and a comprehensive plan could help prioritize projects and spend money as effectively as possible.

The city’s efforts also depend on the larger metro area. Mount Pleasant, James Island and North Charleston in particular would do well to continue expanding on recent infrastructure improvements to create a more cohesive regional bike and pedestrian network.

And with rising numbers of bikes on our roads, motorists and cyclists alike - regardless of their views on this issue - should take increased care to prevent more needless loss of life. Safe, alert driving is critical even in the best circumstances.

Meanwhile, investing in bike lanes, sidewalks, pedestrian paths and other non-car infrastructure offers more than just reduced congestion, improved health and more vibrant urban and suburban environments.

Those two recent tragedies - and the many more that preceded them - show just how much is at stake.

Online:

https://www.postandcourier.com

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Feb. 27

The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on the Department of Health and Environmental Control:

Gov. Nikki Haley’s botched end-run to put a friend in charge of South Carolina’s health and environmental protection agency must be used as a teachable moment.

It is a “how-to” manual on bad governance, with one redeeming chapter. The state Senate, thank goodness, raised so many questions and exposed so many weaknesses in the candidate that she withdrew her nomination.

The state thereby avoided having someone in charge of the Department of Health and Environmental Control whose only qualification was being a close personal friend, political ally and campaign contributor to the governor.

We call it an end-run because the selection was made secretly, with virtually no vetting. The former director resigned, and four days later the DHEC board, all handpicked by the governor, announced her replacement. No one else was considered. The chosen candidate then went to work as a $74-per-hour temporary employee prior to being confirmed by the Senate.

The vagaries of this process were put into perspective in a column by our colleague in Columbia, Cindi Ross Scoppe:

“Imagine a company with 3,600 employees spread across the state, doing highly specialized work that can have multimillion-dollar and even life-and-death consequences if it isn’t done right. The CEO tells the board she wants to resign but agrees to keep it quiet and wait until a replacement can be found.

“The board chairman gets a call from a friend who suggests a friend for the position. … This candidate has no experience or knowledge about any of the many highly technical areas of the company’s business. She has run a handful of large companies, but at least twice she left under questionable circumstances. In between, she has moved around a lot, holding down 10 jobs in the past 21 years — five of them since 2005 alone.

“But she does well in the interview, and so without considering any other candidates — without so much as even asking her for references — the board of directors hires her.”

How could this possibly happen?

Political appointments are a problem. In this case, both the board that oversees DHEC and its top administrator were picked by the governor for political reasons. There were no checks and no balances in-house. Thankfully, the Senate did its job by asking hard questions, some of which pointed out Eleanor Kitzman’s attendance at a Texas fundraiser for Haley.

A teachable moment for the governor should be that she cannot rule by fiat.

A teachable moment for the Senate is that it is going to have to devote much more scrutiny to all people appointed by this governor to direct a state agency. Citizens, taxpayers and DHEC employees deserve a strong system of checks and balances to control good-old-boy politics.

A teachable moment for the DHEC board is that the Senate, which gives a lot of deference to boards and the governor in their nominees, is going to pay attention to the process and see that it is done responsibly.

And a teachable moment for the state is that we need basic professional requirements to fill certain jobs. It is ludicrous that someone could be in charge of public health with zero background, education or credentials in the field.

That needs to be fixed.

Online:

https://www.islandpacket.com

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