- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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May 8

The Greenville News on ethics reform bills in South Carolina:

A pair of ethics reform bills (finally) approved by the South Carolina Senate would be a step forward, but even if the House agrees to the Senate’s bills or a workable compromise is hammered out in conference, no one in the state should make the claim that ethics reform in South Carolina is complete.

The good news is that the Senate bills would turn over investigations of ethics complaints against legislators to a reconfigured State Ethics Commission. Right now, the fox guards the henhouse, with each house investigating complaints against its own members. Although the new bill lets the foxes appoint some of the guards, it is a step removed from the current law and represents a real step forward.

The Senate’s bills also would require public officials to disclose the sources of their private income. Once again, though, the Senate declined to take a full step forward by requiring lawmakers to disclose the amounts of those incomes. The bill also needs to be clear that all private income sources should be revealed.

Finally, the Senate bills failed to address regulation of what is known as “dark money,” or money from groups not run by candidates and that face no disclosure requirements.

As one activist said last week of the bills, “It’s not a home run. But maybe it’s a good single.”

We would even go so far as to say it’s an extra-base hit given the length of time the Legislature has struggled to pass any meaningful ethics reform. But the shortcomings of both bills mean more work needs to be done.

For instance, the revamped Ethics Commission would not be completely independent from the Legislature. Lawmakers would appoint half of the eight-member commission. And it would take only three members to block a complaint from moving forward. Further, only criminal matters would be sent to the Attorney General’s Office, with other matters going to legislative committees to determine guilt or innocence and any penalty. There still is room for improvement here, as lawmakers should be completely removed from policing themselves.

More worrisome, though, is that legislators still refuse to agree to disclosing not just the sources of their private income, but the amounts. In politics, money talks. And residents have the right to know exactly whose money their representatives are receiving and how much. After all, $10,000 talks a whole lot louder than $10.

Holding any public official, either elected or appointed, accountable to their employers (the people) demands that those officials surrender at least a measure of their privacy. Income is one area where public officials ought to lose that privacy.

These are significant reforms that still need to take place. If they can’t be achieved as the House and Senate reconcile their bills, then they should be tackled next year. In the meantime, the bills passed by the Senate represent achievable progress and they should be made law.

It is at least encouraging that both houses have taken this issue seriously this legislative session. The case for ethics reform in South Carolina can be made by simply listing the names of some of those elected and appointed officials who have demonstrated a belief that they were above the law.

In a little more than four years, this state has had a lieutenant governor (Ken Ard), a speaker of the House (Bobby Harrell) and a sitting member of the Legislature (Sen. Robert Ford) resign amid ethics violations or investigations. Accusations have been raised against other officials, including then Rep. Nikki Haley.

South Carolina politics are sometimes mocked because of their free-wheeling nature that sometimes has the whiff of corruption. These reforms can help clear up that air and perhaps decrease the perception that our public officials are looking out for their own interest, and give us confidence that the public’s interests will be put first.

But legislators should not lose sight of the very obvious fact that there is more that needs to be done.

Online:

http://www.greenvilleonline.com

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May 11

The Post and Courier on registering to vote:

Voters will elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as our next president on Nov. 8, barring an extraordinary turn of events. Unfortunately, many Americans find those two major-party alternatives at best uninspiring, and at worst alarming.

But voters in South Carolina will elect many other candidates much sooner. And unless you’re already registered to vote, you have only until this Saturday - May 14 - to do so in order to cast ballots in high-stakes June 14 primaries.

That’s because state law requires being registered one month before voting.

Due to a variety of factors, including district gerrymandering, many races for our local and state offices lack two-party competition. Thus, many victors in the Democratic and Republican primaries throughout our state next month won’t face major-party opposition in the fall.

In other words, winning the primary means winning the office.

Among those contests are five area S.C. Senate races. For instance, in Charleston’s District 42, incumbent Sen. Marlon Kimpson will face former Sen. Robert Ford in the Democratic primary, but the winner will face no Republican in the general election.

And in District 41, which is coming open due to Paul Thurmond’s decision to leave the Senate, five Republicans are competing in the primary to succeed him. But no Democrat will be on the November ballot.

The same is true for District 34, with four Republican candidates vying to replace Ray Cleary, who is not seeking re-election. That district includes northern Charleston County and Georgetown County.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Daniel Island, faces primary challenger Mark Robin Heath in District 37. Incumbent Sen. Paul Campbell faces Tony Coleman in the Republican primary for Berkeley’s District 44. In Dorchester County’s District 38, Republican incumbent Sen. Sean Bennett faces challenger Evan Guthrie. And in House District 112, incumbent Mike Sottile faces Patrick Cloud. In none of those races will there be a Democratic challenger in November.

Another sad commentary on the current shortage of political competition in our state: About three-quarters of legislative incumbents are unopposed in both their party’s primary and the general election.

Lamenting current political realities won’t change them. But voting might.

Local voter registration offices are open through Friday, and closed on Saturday. You also can register online at scvotes.org. You will need an S.C. driver’s license or S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles identification card. Libraries have registration forms that you can complete and send to your county voter registration and elections office by mail (postmarked by May 14), fax or email attachment.

Still, getting registered is meaningless if you don’t vote.

And registered voters who skip the June 14 primary - and if it’s needed to secure a majority winner, the June 28 runoff - will miss a chance to choose who represents them in the halls of power. So will people who aren’t registered.

So if you’re registered, vote next month.

And if you’re not registered, get registered this week - then have your say in our self-governing process.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com

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May 11

The Herald of Rock Hill on relief bill for farmers in South Carolina:

Gov. Nikki Haley doesn’t object when the state offers special tax incentives to attract new business and industry to the state. So it’s hard to understand why she wants to veto state efforts to lend a helping hand to farmers after they suffered $330 million in losses because of a massive flood.

South Carolina farmers say 2015 ranks among the worst years ever for them. The S.C. Department of Agriculture reported that the state’s entire cotton, soybean and peanut crops were destroyed by an October flood that covered much of the state. Then, with the wet weather continuing into 2016, many farmers were unable to plant a full crop in the spring because of standing water.

The state’s farmers have access to federal crop insurance and emergency low-interest loans, but that aid does not come close to covering their entire losses. Farmers hit by last year’s flood had hoped the state also would provide some relief.

This month, the General Assembly passed a bill to give $40 million to farmers to help them recover. Farmers in disaster-declared counties could request grants of up to $100,000 to cover up to 20 percent of their 2015 crop losses.

Haley, who argues that farmers should be treated no differently from other small business owners, has threatened to veto the bill. But the comparison is fundamentally unfair: farmers aren’t ordinary small businessmen.

Unlike the average business owner, farmers are at the mercy of the weather year in and year out. A typical small business might make an insurance claim now and then, but farmers could be hit by several years of crop-destroying weather in a row.

We reward farmers for enduring the uncertainties of trying to plant and harvest a crop because agriculture is regarded as a necessity to the nation’s well being. And it also is a mainstay of South Carolina’s economy.

Failing to help sustain the state’s agriculture industry could mean not only that many farmers could go out of business but also that many potential young farmers will be discouraged from undertaking the risks of farming in the first place. That would be bad news for the poorer rural parts of the state where farming remains a vital part of the local economy.

The state’s farm relief bill passed by a vote of 85-2 in the House and 33-3 in the Senate. Those majorities are well over the two-thirds needed to override a veto by Haley, and we hope lawmakers exercise that prerogative if necessary.

The state routinely provides an array of perks and privileges to prospective businesses. We should be just as attentive to the needs of the agriculture industry that already contributes substantially to the state’s economy.

Online:

http://www.heraldonline.com

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