- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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April 22

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on a road that’s been the center of a court battle:

From a public perspective, lawsuits are best settled at some point in the legalities when the parties resolve their differences, agree on terms, and the court (judge) approves. Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a case challenging completion of International Drive, which will link Carolina Forest with S.C. 90. The Coastal Conservation League staff attorney, Natalie Olson, confirmed agreements that will end cases pending in two other jurisdictions, U.S. District Court in Florence and the S.C. Court of Appeals.

Settlement means the 5.6-mile segment of International Drive could be open to motorists in a matter of months, when construction is completed. A court decision allowed more construction, which started in March, but kept the road closed to the public until resolution of the lawsuit.

That was another legal victory for Horry County and, significantly, a signal to the plaintiffs (CLC and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation) that settlement was indeed in their best interests. In other words, as Olson suggested in The Sun News report of the settlement, it now made sense to end the legal challenges to International Drive and move on.

The environmental groups clearly made the right decision for the commonweal - or general welfare - as well. The CLC and SCWF had environmental concerns that centered on potential harm to Lewis Ocean Bays Heritage Preserve and the county’s removal from original plans of tunnels for black bears. The changes had the approval of the state Department of Natural Resources.

The county had pending counterclaims, naming the environmental groups, seeking financial damages and payment of nearly $250,000 in legal costs. Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught described the agreement as a victory for the county. Both sides will walk away from the lawsuits without paying damages.

“This ends the process and allows everyone to go their way, and the people of Horry County get their road,” he said.

One outcome of the legal battle over International Drive is “automatic stay” legislation in the S.C. General Assembly. The Sen. Luke Rankin bill would limit to 90 days the time state courts may issue an automatic stay on construction. Gov. Henry McMaster had promised to sign the legislation, which has Senate approval, if it reaches his desk. The CLC opposes Rankin’s bill, saying it would limit citizens’ rights to challenge government decisions.

The executive director of the CLC, Dana Beach, says he hopes to work with the county on other road projects “to identify important habitat and be able to make some progress on those without getting immersed in the legal system. We’re looking forward to being involved in a non-judicial setting.”

Of course, that does not suggest any entity, Horry County or state, should expect no challenges from environmentalists. Going forward, we hope differences between highway planners and environmentalists can be more easily resolved than has been the case for International Drive.

Online: https://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/

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April 23

The Index-Journal of Greenwood on STD rates in the state:

South Carolina yet again ranks high in a category it would rather not. Our state is among the highest in the nation for sexually transmitted disease cases. And, closer to home, you will see that Greenwood County ranks third in the state for the rate of gonorrhea cases, seventh for chlamydia and 16th for syphilis. The top three states are Louisiana, North Carolina and Mississippi.

The common thread behind both the national showing and Greenwood County’s own poor standing? Access to health care, education in general and socioeconomic standing. In short, as much as we love our southern roots, the South - namely the rural South - is in a world of hurt. Still.

Teaching abstinence is fine, in and of itself, but that’s not going to stop the frequency of sex among 15- to 24-year-olds, the group considered most at risk. And despite all the various educational efforts out there, it is obvious safe-sex practices are falling way short, creating a cyclical problem that continues to erode the health of our youth and young adults, which in turn has long-term economic and social effects.

We are not armed with all the answers, by any means, but one thing is clear: we need to work harder to ensure those most prone to STDs are given the best access to sex education and health care. Whether that takes place in the schools, in neighborhood meetings, in churches, in free clinics, in doctors’ offices, the emergency room or any combination thereof, more must be done.

Simply teaching abstinence or merely saying the people in this group shouldn’t be having sex or shouldn’t be having unprotected sex does nothing to truly address the problem. That’s obvious. Not developing a concentrated effort geared toward the most affected group will do nothing to reverse the trends; in fact, the trends will likely escalate.

Online: https://www.indexjournal.com/

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April 25

The Post and Courier of Charleston on pension reform:

Pension reform was done for the year as Gov. Henry McMaster’s signed the bill into law on Tuesday. Let’s hope that it isn’t done for good.

Gov. McMaster pointed out the need for further reforms, most notably a shift from the defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan - otherwise known as a 401(k).

It’s the only way that taxpayers ultimately will be protected from the ongoing expense of the current pension system.

Certainly, taxpayers won’t be protected by this legislation, which will put an additional $826 million in tax money annually to bolster the tottering pension system, facing an unfunded liability of $24 billion.

Meanwhile, recipients of state pensions will contribute another $40 million over the same period of time.

It hardly seems fair.

Clearly, Gov. McMaster understands the problems facing the pension system, and recognizes that real reform will require additional legislative action. In his signing statement, he said:

“The unfunded liability in our pension system is the result of a combination of factors created, occurring and neglected for over fifteen years: the 28-year retirement eligibility; the Teacher and Employee Retirement Retention Incentive (TERI); continued cost of living adjustments (COLAs); and lower than expected rates of return on investments.”

Mr. McMaster also insisted that more oversight is needed from the state treasurer, who was pointedly removed from that traditional role in this year’s legislation.

House and Senate leaders of the committee that came up with the pension plan have promised to pursue further reforms next session.

The Senate actually agreed to replace the current pension system with a 401(k) plan for new state employees. But that proposal was dropped by a legislative conference committee in the bill’s final form.

In any event, making the hard choices for an amended pension reform next year might be easier said than done.

Having taken care of the system’s massive fiscal problems for the near-term, the temptation for legislators will be to pass on other needed reforms that might face the opposition of public employees.

But as the governor observed: “Defined benefit pension plans are now virtually extinct in corporate America. This is because they are unsustainable, expensive and require constant infusions of capital to remain afloat.”

And he noted that 15 states already have abandoned them in favor of defined contribution retirement plans for their new employees.

While there are reform elements in the new plan, it would be better defined as a taxpayer bailout of a failing system. The taxpayers will have an opportunity to see how serious state leaders are about making fundamental changes to the costly public pension system when the next legislative session rolls around.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/

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