- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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June 27

The Herald of Rock Hill on the phasing out of the Teacher Employee Retirement Incentive program:

The General Assembly decided to phase out the TERI program next year in part to relieve pressure on the state’s pension plan. But lawmakers need to be prepared for the likely flood of retirements when the perk ends.

TERI stands for Teacher Employee Retirement Incentive program. Initiated in 2000, it allowed teachers to work up to five years after they officially retire, banking their pension benefits in a special account until they are paid in a lump sum at the end of the program. The goal was to entice experienced teachers to stay in the classroom past eligible retirement age, sharing their expertise with younger teachers.

The program eventually was expanded to other public workers, and thousands took advantage of the offer. But a 2012 law designed to shore up the state’s pension system phases out the TERI program as of June 30, 2018.

TERI alone accounts for an estimated $2 billion of the state’s $20 billion pension debt, which had threatened to grow out of control. Ending the TERI program and other reforms should help slow the growth of pension debt.

Public workers who have retired can keep working after TERI ends, but the 2012 law suspends their benefits after they have earned $10,000 for the year. State officials predict that few teachers or other state workers will keep working past retirement age once TERI has expired.

That, too, could have an upside, providing opportunities for younger employees to ascend the professional ladder. But it also is like to result in a mass exodus, especially by teachers.

Shutting down TERI means about 7,500 teachers and state and local government workers could leave their jobs next year, according to the Public Employee Benefit Authority. And that could be in addition to the exit of baby-boom era teachers who are reaching retirement age each year.

South Carolina already is suffering from a serious teacher shortage. Last year, nearly 6,500 teachers didn’t return to the classroom, and fewer college students are pursuing teaching as a career.

Recruiting and retaining teachers, especially in poor rural school districts, is an increasing challenge. And now, with the end of the TERI program, the situation is likely to grow worse.

But lawmakers could ease the problem by raising pay for teachers and other public employees. Teacher pay remains not only well below the national average but also below the Southeast average, which prompts many teachers trained in South Carolina to leave the state for greener pastures.

S.C. lawmakers have not given state workers an across-the board pay raise during five of the past 10 years, including this year. Average S.C. state worker salaries lag those of public workers in other states by 15 percent and lag salaries for S.C. private-sector jobs by 18 percent.

If South Carolina wants to attract teachers and keep them in the classroom, it has to offer competitive salaries and added incentives to teach in poorer school districts that can’t supplement teacher pay to the extent that wealthier districts can. The state also needs to find ways to persuade more young people to pursue teaching as a career.

Phasing out the TERI program will contribute to what is likely to be a serious shortage of teachers and other public workers. But armed with that knowledge, lawmakers should be able to take steps to stem the exodus and bring new people into the system.

Online: https://www.heraldonline.com/

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June 25

The Aiken Standard on South Carolina’s low placement on a ranking of states’ driver courtesy:

It was a busy news weekend, though one topic in particular really struck a nerve with readers.

A recent survey conducted by Kars4Kids ranked South Carolina near the bottom of the list in terms of driver courtesy. The Palmetto State placed 49th, only parking ahead of New York State, the least courteous state, according to the informal survey.

Georgia also struggled with driver courtesy, ranking 44th. Arkansas came in 48th. Idaho apparently has the most courteous drivers, placing 1st.

For its trouble, South Carolina received an overall grade of “F.”

Based on the Kars4Kids survey, South Carolina ranked especially poorly on issues relating to tailgating, speeding up to avoid being passed and stealing someone’s parking spot.

So what does this all mean? Nothing, officially. It wasn’t the most scientific survey, consisting of only 10 multiple choice questions, according to the Kars4Kids website.

Responses to each question were given a score based on a sliding scale. It was not clear from the website how many people were polled.

Although not really scientific, the survey’s findings did yield many opinions from readers, with nearly 200 comments posted in response to the Aiken Standard’s Facebook page. Clearly, driver rudeness is an issue with people.

If the survey accomplishes one thing, it does serve as a reminder to all of us that we should be driving with greater care and caution. Think defensive driving, not aggressive driving.

One frequent comment to our Facebook page concerned the growing problem of drivers texting while driving. Many think this is one of the greatest forms of driver rudeness. We agree.

It’s a violation that occurs frequently, yet is infrequently enforced. Texting behind the wheel and other forms of distracted driving aren’t only rude, they’re dangerous. So is basic driver inattention.

Sadly, there has been a rash of fatal collisions in the region in recent days. An Aiken County Sheriff’s Office deputy died in a motorcycle accident Thursday. Two more people died in a pair of related collisions early Saturday on I-20.

No official cause for any of these fatal collisions has been identified, and they all remain under investigation. Until causes are identified, it’s premature to link these incidents to the underlying behaviors outlined in the rude driver survey.

But these tragic collisions do serve as important reminders how precarious the operation of a motor vehicle can be. We think we are in control and most of the time we are. But at the same time, it doesn’t take much for a seemingly mundane activity to end tragically.

What the Kars4Kids survey lacks in scientific credibility, it does raise public awareness. Tailgating, left lane hogging, distracted driving and speeding are not only rude, but also dangerous driving habits that can lead to more serious traffic incidents.

Even something as simple as changing lanes without signaling creates additional hazards for everyone else on the road. We shouldn’t need an informal survey to remind of us about that, but we’re not complaining that it does.

Online: https://www.aikenstandard.com/

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June 26

The Post and Courier of Charleston on civil asset forfeiture:

South Carolina’s civil asset forfeiture laws have for decades enabled law enforcement agencies to seize ill-gotten cash and property, mostly in drug investigations and mostly for their own benefit. It’s has served as a boon to many underfunded agencies fighting an unceasing menace.

Unfortunately, the practice has also incentivized seizing assets in questionable cases and put suspects in the position of having to prove their innocence. That’s legally backward.

Critics of asset forfeiture call it “policing for profit,” and South Carolina’s laws have been rated near the bottom of the barrel by the Institute of Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm.

Other civil libertarian groups assert that asset forfeitures disproportionately affect the poor and minorities, as evidenced by a study done by Reason magazine and the nonprofit Lucy Parsons Lab.

Additionally, record-keeping requirements are less than transparent, making public oversight difficult. Though state law requires police agencies to prepare a report about civil forfeitures to be made public “upon request,” none of about a dozen agencies from which The Post and Courier requested records had such a report on file.

In South Carolina, local law enforcement agencies brought in more than $6.7 million last year in seized assets, based the share agencies are required to turn over to the state, according to The Post and Courier’s David Slade.

A pending bill sponsored by Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, and Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, would require a criminal conviction in most cases before prosecutors could go after assets. As it is now, assets can be seized if a law enforcement officer simply suspects they are related to a crime - even if the person is never arrested or charged.

Under the bill, instead of allowing law enforcement and prosecutors to keep 95 percent of the take, proceeds from any forfeited asset would go to the state’s general fund.

With a few exceptions, the bipartisan bill also would prevent prosecutors from handing off cases to federal law enforcement to bypass state laws and get a cut of the seized assets via the federal Equitable Sharing forfeiture program.

Amending those flaws in South Carolina law would go a long way toward ensuring those with little means to defend themselves are not victimized.

Another bill by State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, would require a higher standard of proof of guilt before seizing assets and prevent seized property from being sold absent a criminal conviction.

It’s unclear how often assets may be seized unjustly, partly because contesting a seizure is relatively rare, costly and burdensome.

As reported by Mr. Slade, Roger Roberts of Columbia eventually got back $7,500 taken from him in a Richland County traffic stop in which a passenger was arrested for possession of pot and cocaine. Though Roberts was never charged with a crime, the Army veteran had to produce monthly disability checks to convince sheriff’s investigators the cash he was carrying was for buying a car.

Given a chance, the guilty will often walk away from seized property or even consent to the forfeiture rather than go to court and answer questions that could expose them to criminal prosecution. But the same shouldn’t apply to the innocent, because cannot afford the expense of contesting the forfeiture.

Laws aren’t perfect, but the good ones err on the side of the innocent.

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

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