- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

August 23

The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on making public records about child deaths under the care of the state DSS:

Children need to be protected. And those who suffer because the adults in their lives have failed them need extra care.

But keeping secrets about how children died while under the care of the S.C. Department of Social Services - and whether changes need to be made to prevent another child’s death - is not the way to protect them.

And sadly, 41 percent of all children whose deaths were investigated by SLED last year had interacted with Social Services.

Knowledge of that troubling number lets the public and legislators know that problems exist. But only when DSS identifies the specific problems it faces can it get help from the Legislature and the public to address those problems.

Certainly, each child’s death demands detailed scrutiny.

Those who do have access to such information include the State Law Enforcement Division and the 18-member Child Fatality Advisory Committee. SLED keeps the records, and the present administration says, by law, they are not available for public scrutiny.

However, attorney Reggie Lloyd made the records available when he was SLED director, and he says they should be now. He says SLED is interpreting the law in a way that is “unnecessarily broad.”

As long as children who are, or have been, involved with DSS are dying, the problem requires public awareness to promote reforms and protect the children who most need protection.




August 26

Aiken Standard, Aiken, South Carolina, on making education funding more equitable:

The way we fund education in South Carolina needs to be changed, and thankfully that seemed to be the consensus at a superintendent of education candidate forum in Myrtle Beach this weekend.

The system our state currently has in place is too varied and too complicated for it to effective and equitable.

Lawmakers have in recent years pushed for a more uniform way to fund education, but so far, those plans haven’t been moved forward. In the next legislative session, we urge lawmakers to work with the next superintendent of education - whomever replaces retiring superintendent Mick Zais - to pursue education funding reform, and aim to make it more consistent and simplified.

Bills have been proposed at the Statehouse in the past that would have created a much more even funding distribution, while also providing property tax relief for businesses. This would be a wise measure.

Obviously, equal funding isn’t a fix-all for our state’s education problems, and doesn’t guarantee every classroom in the state will be the same.

But it’s imperative that the discussion of equitable funding takes place and that it’s the first part of a larger discussion the state needs to have to curb education problems.

Making transformative changes to the state’s education also hinges on a landmark, yet undecided South Carolina Supreme Court case - Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina - that could be decided by the end of the year. Depending on how, or even if, the case is resolved, it could mean the state makes a greater push to ensure rural school districts are provided greater resources.

If the case is resolved soon, it will give lawmakers a better sense of what kind of education reforms to pursue in Columbia. We hope the first step is trying to provide adequate funding for schools throughout the state.




August 20

The State, Columbia, South Carolina, on releasing the SLED investigation into Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell:

Since January, House Speaker Bobby Harrell has been demanding the release of the SLED investigation into corruption allegations against him.

And since January, Attorney General Alan Wilson has refused, citing an ongoing State Grand Jury investigation and a state law that prohibits the release of grand jury material.

There was, of course, always a second reason he didn’t release the report: No prosecutor is going to turn over an investigative report when the case is still being investigated. The legal distinction is that the prosecutor gets to decide whether to release such a report - except when the case is before the State Grand Jury.

Mr. Harrell has insisted since questions first were raised about the way he spent campaign money that he has done nothing illegal and that the SLED report would vindicate him and also demonstrate that the attorney general is pursuing a political vendetta against him.

Mr. Wilson has insisted that the report contains serious criminal allegations; indeed, both Mr. Wilson and SLED Chief Mark Keel signed legal documents to that effect, and Circuit Judge Casey Manning approved their use of the State Grand Jury because he concluded that the report detailed corruption allegations that merited further investigation.

Given the immense power that the public has entrusted to both of these men, and the serious questions of abuse of power that this case raises, the people of South Carolina need to know which story is true. There are only two ways that we’re ever going to know that: if Mr. Harrell is indicted and found either guilty or not guilty, or if the report is released to the public.

But here’s what we do know: Now that the Grand Jury no longer is empaneled, it cannot be argued that there is a legal prohibition on releasing the SLED report. And if Mr. Harrell’s victory dance has any basis - if in fact whatever remains of the criminal investigation is merely pro forma - then there is no reason that Mr. Wilson or Mr. Pascoe or whoever has possession of the report should not release it. Immediately.

It’s understandable that Mr. Wilson wouldn’t want to speak in detail and that the report would remain hidden from the public if the criminal investigation is indeed continuing. But even that must end at some point.

Whenever it ends, and however it ends, the attorney general must give an accounting for the way he has handled the case, and the SLED report must be released to the public.



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