- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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March 24

The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on ‘Shining Stars’ at SC State University:

As South Carolina State held its Scholarship Gala and Tribute, the reminders of fiscal problems facing the university were not ignored. But the S.C. State mission and achievement of its students were the focal points in an important Saturday night statement about the future.

Welcoming scholarship donors and university supporters to the annual event sponsored by the SCSU Foundation, Acting President Dr. Franklin Evans and Foundation Chairman Edward Williams thanked many personally.

Evans had a written message: “As the costs of higher education continue to rise across the nation, support is still urgently needed to ensure access to a SC State University degree. It is now more important than ever to raise, invest and steward private funds in the most efficient manner possible.”

Williams cited “trials and tribulations of late” but noted that with the assistance of benefactors such as those at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center for the gala, “We’ll come through it.”

Later, Williams offered proof of the foundation’s commitment to the future of educating students at S.C. State by announcing payment to the university of the third $250,000 installment of a $1 million foundation pledge for student scholarships.

Grammy-nominated musician Tony Grant, master of ceremonies and entertainer for the annual event, weighed in on the issue of the university’s future.

“South Carolina State University is needed and will remain for generations to come,” Grant said in citing a list of achievements by students, alumni, faculty and supporters. “It remains open.”

He later said he would be seeking direct help for the university from the likes of Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey.

Even foundation board member the Rev. Willie Heggins acknowledged issues facing S.C. State when in a prayer before the meal, he sought guidance for state legislators making decisions about the university.

Then came the most important message of the evening, and the one that should reverberate in Columbia as state leaders weigh a course to save the university from its present fiscal crisis. Speaking were “Shining Star” students.

Via video interviews, football and academic standout Antonio Hamilton of Johnstone; Baumholder, Germany, native Adrian Juilen, and Orangeburg’s Valerie Nwadeyi offered praises for the university and its impact on their lives. Nwadeyi called the school the “backbone” of her family’s education legacy and a vital player in the future of Orangeburg and South Carolina.

First speaking via video and then in person as the representative for S.C. State’s “Shining Stars,” Tamekia Daniels of Hardeeville addressed S.C. State supporters and all South Carolinians amid the present cycle of high-profile problems at her school.

S.C. State is about opportunity, she said, with the institution offering her the financial help to make college possible. It is the same for many students, some from troubled backgrounds, who would not have the college opportunity without SCSU and its mission of serving the traditionally underserved.

“Many of our parents could not afford to send us to college. Many of us could not be here without you,” she said in thanking those at the gala. “I assure you, you will see a return on your investment.”

And so will all the people of the state through our government’s vital efforts to put the university on a stable course for the future.

Online:

https://thetandd.com

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March 25

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on Congress’ failure to agree on human trafficking bill:

Washington gridlock on immigration, energy, federal spending and health care, though lamentable, is understandable. After all, the two major parties generally favor opposing solutions to the problems raised by those issues.

But last week the U.S. Senate couldn’t even pass a bill that rated widespread support across party lines. That legislation would have toughened the penalties for human trafficking and enhanced law enforcement’s capacity to counter it.

However, Senate Democrats killed it with a filibuster threat after belatedly realizing that it contained a clause, inserted by Republicans, banning the use of a trafficking-victims compensation fund for abortions other than the types exempted (rape and incest) in the Hyde Amendment.

In other words, Democrats killed legislation that would have no practical impact on federal abortion funding. Indeed, it merely reasserts that intent of the Hyde amendment, which has been routinely attached to federal spending bills since its passage nearly four decades ago.

John Cornyn, R-Texas, offered to change the wording of the trafficking legislation’s abortion provision by creating an annual appropriation for the compensation fund instead of a separate pool of fees.

After Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and other prominent Democrats scrapped the bill, Sen. Cornyn expressed justified frustration by asking: “Can they take ‘yes’ for an answer? We’ve made a proposal to them to give them what they’ve asked for.”

And Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobucher, the top Democratic sponsor of the bill, like many of her party colleagues evidently didn’t know it included that Hyde Amendment echo.

Sen. Klobucher’s spokeswoman told The Associated Press: “The senator takes responsibility for the work of her office and missing the provision, and she is focused on moving forward to find a way to fix the bill and protect victims of trafficking.”

As for Democrats’ demands for a confirmation vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said he will comply as soon as the trafficking bill is passed.

Sounds like a fair, practical compromise to advance two legislative tasks.

And The Washington Post editorial board, no hotbed of pro-life or conservative zeal, offered this withering perspective on the needless derailing of the human trafficking bill:

“Perhaps Democrats thought they could score political points, or maybe they didn’t want to anger their traditional allies in the abortion rights lobby. Either way, it became depressingly clear that what they weren’t thinking about was the needs of vulnerable people, mostly young women and girls, who are the victims of sex trafficking.”

Meanwhile, as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, aptly put it: “If we cannot approve a bill to deal with human trafficking, then what will we be able to deal with?”

Apparently, not much.

Online:

https://www.postandcourier.com

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March 18

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on study of state worker salaries:

S.C. lawmakers probably are justified in voting to spend $300,000 on a study to determine if state employees’ salaries are too low. But they shouldn’t waste the money if the study will just end up on a shelf collecting dust.

The House has approved funding for a comprehensive study of employee’s salaries. It would be the first such study in 20 years.

Even without a study, it appears safe to assume that many categories of state workers are underpaid, some woefully underpaid. For example, probation officers - who are required to hold a college degree - earn starting salaries of only $26,000.

Try paying off student loans on a salary like that.

State troopers start out making $31,000 a year.

“We have police officers out there now working two or three jobs to feed their families,” said state Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, who is chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee that writes state law enforcement agencies’ budgets.

The study would provide necessary information about what employees across the Southeast make in both the public and private sector in jobs similar to those of state workers. Those who conduct the study also would be expected to provide recommendations for adjusting pay.

But will lawmakers listen? State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, doubts they will, saying the study would only confirm the obvious, leaving the Legislature to figure out how to fund increases.

“Let’s give the money directly. … We’re just not willing to make the hard cuts,” he said.

Some lawmakers suggested that the study might point out duplicated jobs that could be cut to pay for salary increases for other employees. But it would be naive to assume that the state can pay for raises simply by finding unnecessary workers to fire.

As Pitts noted, the staff levels of state agencies have yet to return to the levels they were before the Great Recession hit. And the population has grown since then, increasing the need for state services.

In other words, will state lawmakers have the foresight, the compassion and the guts to pay state workers what they deserve even if they have to find a new source of revenue to do it? The odds of our legislators doing the right thing instead of what they believe is the politically expedient thing are not good.

The House already has rejected a 3 percent cost-of-living wage proposed by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, which would cost $46 million.

Lawmakers also recently backtracked on a plan to borrow $500 million in state bond money to help pay for a variety of crucial state needs. That move came after Gov. Nikki Haley strenuously opposed it, claiming the taxpayers wouldn’t stand for it. She threatened to post the names of lawmakers online who voted in favor of the proposal.

Last week the House also refused to distribute up to $10 million to 22 counties to cover part of their cleanup costs from the 2014 ice storm, saying it would throw the proposed budget out of balance. The affected counties include some of the state’s poorest and rural counties.

So, what are the chances lawmakers will do what’s necessary to bring salaries for state workers in line with their Southeastern counterparts? Is it likely the salary study will be received and ignored? We’re afraid so.

South Carolina needs to attract qualified state employees. It needs to be able to retain qualified employees so that it doesn’t have to pay the cost of retraining new ones. And it needs to pay enough to ensure that workers don’t have to resort to working second jobs or applying for food stamps to support themselves and their families.

To have a well-run, smoothly functioning state work force, the state will have to pay employees a decent salary. If lawmakers aren’t going to pay attention to a study that inevitably will tell them that, why bother?

Online:

https://www.heraldonline.com


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