- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

March 18

The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., on keeping court date secure:

Before legislators decide on next year’s budget, they should remember 2012. That’s when the S.C. Department of Revenue experienced one of the largest security breaches ever.

And they should imagine what would happen with a security failure in the state’s judicial system.

It’s certainly a significant factor in State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal’s budget request.

She’s asking for $6 million for new technology and training to improve security and $1.5 million a year to operate the system.

It’s no puny amount. But the fallout that would follow if the state’s court data were lost would be huge.

As Toal told a Senate panel recently, “Recurring funds of this type are going to be a part of everybody’s budget as you move toward electronic systems.”

Judge Toal has wisely advanced technological improvements during her tenure, recognizing they are vital to a court system that runs smoothly and efficiently. The S.C. court system, which is already significantly understaffed, has a heightened need for technology and safeguards for that technology.

For example, the chief justice would like to establish a site at Clemson University to back up digital court records now stored in Columbia. Doing that would cost $5.5 million. It would cost another $500,000 to train staff on data security measures.

Judge Toal says the backup system would allow court business to continue in the event of a disaster that affects data stored in Columbia.

As she reminded legislators last year, an inefficient or inoperative judiciary harms more than a family wanting to settle an estate or people disputing a contract. It harms the reputation of the state in general, and hence the state’s appeal for business owners who might be interested in relocating or expanding here.

For several years, the chief justice has been pushing for an electronic court document filing system. Also, she says it is difficult to fill court reporters’ jobs in the state. A digital court reporting system, now being tested in Dorchester County, would help address that problem.

The House budget includes $67.7 million for the judicial department. That does not include her security requests - or another $850,000 to improve security in the buildings that house the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. It would also allow her to increase the number of circuit court and family court judges and staff attorneys for both appellate courts. Dockets around the state are overloaded, and these additional positions are necessary to ease that problem.

A functioning court system is one of the most important underpinnings of a healthy society. South Carolina needs to ensure its judiciary has the resources to do its work safely and efficiently.




March 15

The State, Columbia, S.C., on letting state Election Commission oversee county offices to safeguard everyone’s vote:

The main reason the Legislature has spent more than a year not fixing the election system that brought us Lillian McBride and Howard Jackson and now Sam Selph - and eight-hour waits to vote and uncounted ballots - is that legislators in the rest of the state don’t understand that Richland County is the canary in the coal mine. They insist that those endless lines and ballots that turn up a year after the fact, uncounted, are unique to Richland County.

They’re not, but let’s pretend for argument’s sake that the problem is unique to Richland County. It still isn’t a Richland County problem.

Not when you count the ballots for all those legislative districts that cross county lines from Richland into Lexington and Kershaw and Sumter and Newberry and Lee counties. Not when you count the ballots in the 2nd Congressional District. Or the 6th. Not when you count the ballots for attorney general or U.S. Senate. Or governor.

We know votes cast in Richland County aren’t always counted. Who’s to say they won’t get miscounted, or overcounted, in the next election? In such a Republican state, having votes miscounted or voters going home without voting in a county with one of the highest populations of Democrats won’t turn a lot of elections. But it could make a difference in a close race.

We don’t think elections should be treated as county matters, particularly since the races that most of us care most about cross county lines. But since most legislators remain unwilling to give up their power to appoint their county election commissioners, there’s little hope that they will abolish those local boards anytime soon and turn control of county election offices over to the State Election Commission. And we need action now.

Fortunately, there’s a way to inject some accountability into this system without abolishing those county commissions.

H.3198, by Richland Reps. James Smith, Mia McLeod, Beth Bernstein and Nathan Ballentine, gives the director of the state agency the power to order county election employees fired if they fail to follow state law. If county election commissioners refused to act, that would constitute “malfeasance” - one of the few reasons for which they can be removed from office.

The bill also would turn control of counting ballots over to the state if the county agency doesn’t certify them within 48 hours of an election.

There’s nothing radical about this: The county boards retain complete control as long as they see to it that the law is obeyed. All this legislation does is give someone outside those boards the power to make them obey the law if they don’t.

The bill, which was approved unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee and awaits a vote in the full House, won’t solve all of the problems with Richland County’s system. Or with the statewide system. But it will go a long way toward ensuring voters that their elections will be run according to state law and that their votes will be counted - and that other voters’ miscounted votes won’t diminish the value of their own.




March 13

Morning News, Florence, S.C., on state updating laws on upskirting:

For all the advantages modern technology has brought us, pretty much everyone now has at least a mild understanding of the compromises it has made on our privacy.

Still, most women on public buses or in nightclubs probably believe they still have a reasonable expectation of privacy. At the very least, they likely think a perverted stranger can be arrested for sticking a camera up their skirt or dress and snapping a picture.

In many states, like South Carolina, they would be wrong.

Last week’s ruling in Massachusetts exposed serious holes in that state’s, as well as others’, voyeurism laws. The court ruled that so-called “upskirting” or “downblousing” was legal. While the law prohibited the secret photographing of nude or partially nude people - such as in a dressing room - it did not apply to someone in a public place who is fully clothed. The Legislature swiftly closed that law’s loophole, passing an updated version the next day.

The Massachusetts ruling set a good example on a number of fronts. That state’s high court interpreted the fractured law as it was then constructed. The decision might not have been agreeable, but the justices opted against legislating from the bench. Condoning or adjudicating the fairness of a decision is not the job of the judicial branch. Instead, the Massachusetts legislation got a bee in its bonnet to wipe the egg off its face. While it’s pretty clear it was the embarrassment felt by legislators and not the violated women that quickly brought the state’s voyeurism codes up to the 21st century, we hope it might prompt other states to catch up with the times, too.

In South Carolina, first-offense voyeurism is a misdemeanor, making it illegal for a harasser to photograph or record someone without his/her consent or knowledge when it is for the purposes of arousing or gratifying sexual desire and when the person is in a place where she or he would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

But South Carolina’s law aimed at neutralizing voyeurs lags well behind the development of modern imaging devices. Cameras can be tucked neatly away in a variety of hand-held devices, making discreet photography easier than ever. A woman bending over to pick up her purse on a city street could be unknowingly subject to a modern day Peeping Tom’s shutter, capturing surreptitious images of the woman’s private body areas.

This should be illegal. Right now, it’s not in South Carolina.

We urge the South Carolina General Assembly to recognize the vulnerability and update the state’s voyeurism laws.

We shouldn’t ask women to wear a skirt at their own peril.





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