- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 17

The Post and Courier of Charleston on traffic fatalities in South Carolina:

At least 975 families in South Carolina mourned the loss of a loved one to an accident on South Carolina roads last year, including 106 in the tri-county area, according to data released last week by the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

That total represents a four-person decrease in statewide victims over the previous year, when South Carolina was the fourth-deadliest state for road accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Even more tragically, many of 2016’s deaths could have been prevented. Of the 635 occupants of motor vehicles who died on S.C. roads last year, more than half weren’t wearing seat belts.

Seat belts save lives, and there is no excuse not to wear one - whether it’s for a quick drive to the store or a trip across the state. It’s also the law.

A state Highway Patrol spokesman told The Post and Courier that other main factors in fatal accidents include driving over the speed limit, impaired driving and excessive distraction.

The latter refers, among other things, to texting while driving. That dangerous decision - some studies suggest it could be worse than drunk driving - is also against the law in all of South Carolina.

But as The Post and Courier reported recently, enforcement of the texting law in some jurisdictions is spotty at best. That shouldn’t be the case when it comes to behavior that risks both the driver’s life and those of others on the road.

Unfortunately, the shockingly high number of traffic fatalities in the state also relates to the poor state of many South Carolina roads. Shoring up highways, roads and bridges has been a perennial concern for the state, though too little has been done to find a steady, dependable funding source.

As this year’s legislative session begins, devising a sensible long-term plan for South Carolina roads should be a top priority.

It’s also critical that the discussion of road funding and safety improvements not simply focus on cars. Roughly 15 percent of last year’s victims were bicyclists and pedestrians. The number of pedestrian deaths increased from 125 in 2015 to 137 in 2016.

Those data point to a need for better infrastructure like sidewalks, protected bike lanes and other amenities. Providing such features can help people feel more comfortable leaving their cars at home. That’s good for traffic and the environment, not to mention being a healthier alternative to simply driving everywhere.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation calls its traffic safety program Target Zero, meaning that the goal is zero traffic fatalities on state roads. We’re still a long way from that goal.

State lawmakers and public officials can help make this a safer year for South Carolina drivers. But the biggest responsibility is personal.

Buckle up. Put down the phone. Drive sober. Stick to the speed limit. And let’s get to 2018 safe and sound.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com/

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Jan. 15

The Island Packet of Hilton Head Island on the State Ports Authority:

For more than a decade, the State Ports Authority has been a disinterested landlord of one of the finest slices of land in Beaufort County.

As a result, the 317-acre waterfront tract primed for development in the town of Port Royal has remained the ugly, fenced-off site of a shuttered port.

Years ago, the town developed a master plan for development of the site into homes and businesses that would rejuvenate the tax rolls and the community’s unique ambiance. Other local governments, including the school district, bought into the hope by agreeing to go along with a tax increment financing district to help make it happen.

But after being mandated by law to sell the site of the closed Port of Port Royal, the Ports Authority has been like the Tar Baby of Uncle Remus lore. It has been unresponsive to an aggravating and unnecessary level. And it did not get the job done - it did not get the site sold despite four serious offers that all fell apart after months of deliberations.

In fact, things got so bad that a group of local businesspeople sued the ports authority, claiming the agency has mismanaged the sale.

And the state legislature had to intervene. A state law passed in 2014 to speed up the sale - a decade after the sale was first mandated. The new law specified that control of the property would be transferred to the Department of Administration’s General Services division for appraisal and auction if the sale didn’t close by the end of 2015.

For one public body to have to go to this extent with another public body simply to get the Ports Authority to obey the law and sell its unused land is ludicrous.

That is why we support state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort in his plan to shine more light on why the Ports Authority acted this way.

Davis wants a review by the independent Legislative Audit Council, which investigates how state agencies handle public resources and presents a report to lawmakers and the public.

Davis believes the agency kept the property on its books at an inflated value to improve its bonding capacity. The audit should be able to show what that value has been all these years.

After control of the sale was turned over to the Department of Administration, a new appraisal valued the property at $6.95 million. The Ports Authority valued the property as high as $26.6 million, and more recently at $22.5 million.

An audit council review will not rewrite history. But this unresponsive state agency needs just what the accounting seeks: more sunshine.

Davis said Friday that he will not seek the LAC investigation - which requires a request from at least five members of the General Assembly - until after the current bidding period closes at the end of March. He said he does not want to roil the waters during a process that could finally break the old logjam. That was a concern of state Sen. Chip Campsen, a Charleston Republican whose district includes Port Royal.

Still, Davis said, “What the State Ports Authority has done to the town of Port Royal over the past 12 years is disgraceful.”

Every detail needs to be aired in public. Perhaps that is one way to bring a bit of public accountability into this sad saga.

Online:

http://www.islandpacket.com/

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Jan. 14

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on the next lieutenant governor:

The governor resigns in the middle of a term and the lieutenant governor takes the No. 1 position, that much is clear. But determining the next lieutenant governor is cloudy because of faulty wording in a constitutional amendment. The S.C. Supreme Court has been asked to straighten out the problem and will hear arguments this week.

This is more than a legal nicety because Gov. Nikki Haley is about to resign - as soon as the U.S. Senate confirms her as ambassador to the United Nations. President-elect Donald Trump named Haley, and her confirmation is expected, without much opposition, when the Senate takes up the matter. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will be sworn in as governor, and South Carolina may be without a lieutenant governor for a period of time. While that may not seem like a great concern, the succession question needs to be resolved sooner, not later.

The state constitution provides that should the lieutenant governor position become vacant, the state senate president pro tempore becomes lieutenant governor. A constitutional amendment, approved in 2014, will put the governor and lieutenant governor candidates on the same ticket beginning in the 2018 election. However, the ratification wording, approved by the General Assembly, does not specify 2018 as the starting date for the governor to appoint a lieutenant governor when the post is vacant.

S.C. Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort in December asked the Supreme Court for a ruling that a governor cannot appoint a lieutenant governor until after the 2018 election. Should the court so decide, the president pro tempore, Sen. Hugh Leatherman of Florence, would become lieutenant governor. And there’s a catch. Leatherman has made clear he will not be lieutenant governor. He would not give up his powerful Senate positions, including chairmanship of the Finance Committee, which has a big say in the state budget.

Leatherman has been a state senator since 1981 and wielded great power in state government even before he added the pro tem position in 2014. A bit of background is instructive. Lt. Gov. Glenn F. McConnell resigned; Senate President Pro Tem John Courson resigned (so he would not have to be lieutenant governor); Sen. Yancey McGill was elected president pro tempore and became lieutenant governor; Leatherman took the additional pro tem position. McConnell was Senate pro tem, moving to the lieutenant governor position when Ken Ard resigned in 2012.

Leatherman was re-elected pro tem in December, knowing Haley likely would be resigning, but saying he would not be lieutenant governor. The cagey Leatherman asked the Supreme Court to hold off on the succession question until Haley actually resigns and McMaster is sworn in as governor. Leatherman evidently has his own plan: to temporarily resign as pro tem, stepping aside for Sen. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, who would be pro tem only long enough to become lieutenant governor; then Leatherman would be newly elected pro tem. It will be interesting to see if any senators have the nerve to challenge Leatherman.

Should the Supreme Court decide McMaster can name a new lieutenant governor, Leatherman’s set to continue to rule the senate and exercise his considerable power in determining the future of South Carolina.

Online:

http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/

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