- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 13

The Post and Courier (of Charleston) on people’s access to public information:

Two of the first bills on the S.C. Legislature’s agenda this session would strengthen the people’s access to public information.



Let’s hope they fare better than similar bills, which failed to pass four times during four previous sessions.

Government at all levels has become increasingly complex, and the public’s trust in governmental bodies, including elected officials and police, has eroded. There is no room for secrets, which only stoke suspicions.

When people understand what their governments are doing they can either accept what is happening or try to see that it changes. Either way, transparency works.

One of these two key bills has progressed in the House. Sponsored by Reps. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and Weston Newton, R-Beaufort, it won the approval of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday by a 22-0 vote and will move to the floor.

The bill is nearly identical to the one passed out of the Senate last year that was defeated in a House conference committee, as is a separate Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston. Both would make some important, commonsense adjustments to the state’s existing Freedom of Information Act:

. They would establish a review procedure under the Administrative Law Court to sort out disputes over the law’s application.

. Both would regulate how much people can be charged for copies and how much time agencies have to fill requests for information.

. And the two bills also would clear up what material is exempt from the FOIA, including 911 call recordings of a dying person’s last statements and material compiled for law enforcement purposes.

It makes one important clarification: Dash-cam video of an officer involved in an incident resulting in death, injury, property damage or the use of deadly force should be available for public viewing.

Sadly, it does not make any steps toward giving the public access to body-worn camera video. The Supreme Court ruled that body cam video is not subject to the FOIA as it is now written. The Legislature should have that on its agenda to fix.

Also, it should make necessary changes in the law to allow information from autopsies subject to the FOIA in cases of accidental or violent deaths.

Body cameras, like dashboard cameras, can go a long way to answering questions about incidents in which someone is killed or injured. In other states, they have been used to vindicate police officers - or to establish that officers mishandled incidents.

As for autopsy information, in 2010 a 25-year-old man was shot to death by police who said they were in danger. The Sumter County coroner refused to release his report. When the Sumter Item did obtain the report from a different source, it showed that Mr. Jacobs had no gunshot residue on his hands, and that he had been shot in the back.

Police officers across the country say they feel under attack. And indeed, the tension is thick between some police departments and African Americans particularly. But video should make police as well as ordinary citizens feel more confident that they won’t be falsely accused of misdeeds.

The Legislature would be wise to take up these issues in other legislation, but meanwhile, the bills that have been introduced deserve their attention and support.

As the review process is established, its findings should build a bank of precedents that will make the FOIA more clear for government officials and individuals. And as the merits of transparency become evident, perhaps there will be less call to invoke it.

After all, it is the public’s information.

Online:

https://www.postandcourier.com

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Feb. 13

The Island Packet of Hilton Head on a deadly stretch of Interstate 95:

It promises to be ugly, but it should save lives.

The S.C. Department of Transportation has at long last released a plan to address the “coffin corridor” of Interstate 95 in Jasper County. It is a deadly stretch of highway that should have been addressed years ago.

The project will be ugly because 99 acres of trees could be razed on the sides and medians of a 33-mile stretch of interstate. It could involve 46 acres of wetlands. And it is to include lane closures at times during a job that could last 12 to 18 months.

We applaud those who attended a public hearing on the plan last week in Ridgeland, and welcome the scrutiny by the Coastal Conservation League, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and any others interested in environmental protection.

But, ugly or not, the cold truth remains. South Carolina owes it to the traveling public to fix this problem.

When our staff searched for the bigger picture behind the steady stream of horrid wrecks, this is what we found:

? More motorists are dying in tree-related wrecks along this stretch than anywhere else along I-95 in South Carolina.

? Roughly 36 percent of all the I-95 tree-related fatalities statewide - 25 deaths from 2010 to 2015 - occurred in Jasper County.

The trees are obviously a problem. They are too close to the road.

People like to point out that a tree has never jumped out into the road to crash into a vehicle. They like to say it’s the drivers’ fault.

But that doesn’t take into account the fact that there is a major problem on this one particular stretch of highway. The numbers prove it. Drivers who leave the roadway, for whatever reason, don’t have the chance they deserve to survive. That’s the problem.

It is a unique problem, it is an obvious problem, and it can no longer be ignored.

DOT’s movement toward a solution is welcome. Saving lives is the important thing.

Online:

https://www.islandpacket.com

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Feb. 14

The Herald of Rock Hill on new bus transit system:

The ordinance passed by the Rock Hill City Council Monday was a logical next step toward establishing a new bus transit system. We hope city officials will continue to fill in the details of their plan before the city applies for federal money for the system.

The ordinance, which passed with a 4-3 vote, allows the city to enter into a lease purchase agreement, not exceeding $6.6 million, to buy buses and other infrastructure associated with the transit system. The ordinance does not obligate the city to buy the buses but, instead, is intended to demonstrate the city’s commitment to help finance the project before it applies to the Federal Transit Administration for funding.

The three councilmen who voted against the ordinance - Jim Reno, Kevin Sutton and John Black - complained that the plan doesn’t use the right benchmarks to chart whether it will succeed. They also said they want to see more research on population density and potential ridership before they could consider supporting the plan.

The city has provided evidence that the bus system would be popular among residents, particularly Winthrop University students. A survey by the school indicated that nearly three-quarters of those polled would use the system to travel to businesses along Dave Lyle Boulevard and in downtown Rock Hill.

And in a recent poll of around 100 Rock Hill residents, 57 percent said they would be willing to pay a fare if it meant adding more stops or routes.

The city’s plan addresses the needs of distinctly different riders: Winthrop students; low-income residents with few other transportation options; and casual users who might ride the bus to shop or go to restaurants. To that end, routes include personal need destinations such as Piedmont Medical Center, government offices and grocery stores, as well as shopping and entertainment centers, including the future Knowledge Park.

And, of course, routes would include regular stops on Winthrop’s campus. We suspect Rock Hill officials will study systems in other cities to see how a diverse ridership such as this would fare in Rock Hill.

But it seems likely that the business community would embrace a plan that delivers more customers to their stores. Winthrop and PMC officials already have committed to help finance a new transit system.

Under any circumstances, the initial financial risk for the city would be small. City officials estimate that the federal government would cover 80 to 85 percent of operating costs, which are estimated at between $2 million and $2.5 million annually for the first five years. The city likely would be responsible for $300,000 to $400,000 annually, but that could be offset through partnerships with local businesses to help pay those costs.

The city plans to use electric buses, which are less expensive to run and maintain. And passengers could ride free of charge.

The three dissenting councilmen raise some interesting questions. What happens if the grant money goes away? Can the city sustain high enough ridership to justify the system over the long term? Can the city meet the needs of low-income riders while also catering to casual riders?

Rock Hill has had bad luck with fixed-route bus systems in the past, all of which have failed for a variety of reasons. We hope the city presents the public with a strong case for this new plan with statistics to back it up.

But we are optimistic that the city now has the critical mass of riders and destinations to make a bus system practical and sustainable. A popular transit system serving a diverse group of riders would be a great addition to the city.

Online:

https://www.heraldonline.com

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