- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 7

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal on how business interests could sway criminal justice reform:

Advocacy from the business community may be the additional push South Carolina lawmakers need to adopt needed criminal justice reform.

Chambers of commerce across the state are pushing for workforce expansion to provide businesses and industries in the state with the workers they need. That has led them to criminal justice reform because our justice system takes too many out of the workforce.

Quite simply, we lock up too many people in this nation, and we use criminal labels to hurt their ability to rejoin the workforce long after they are released from incarceration.

This is mostly due to the nation’s “war on drugs.” Too many drug offenders are locked up rather than sent to treatment, and the resulting criminal record inhibits their ability to find work after they leave prison.

The percentage of people imprisoned has been falling in South Carolina and the nation over the past few years, but it is still too high. There were almost 21,000 South Carolinians in prison in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

It is good to see Spartanburg County lawmakers leading the charge to fix these problems. State Reps. Josiah Magnuson and Steven Long are vocal in their advocacy for a bill that would allow offenders to have low-level, non-violent drug crimes expunged from their records after three years.

The bill would give those who have struggled with substance abuse a chance to start fresh once they have straightened out their lives. It would help them find sustainable employment and rebuild their careers.

As Magnuson told the Herald-Journal, the bill would give people who have made mistakes a “second chance.”

He said the bill is a step toward further criminal justice reform.

Such reform is needed. South Carolina needs to find other methods of punishment than incarceration. Putting people in prison is not only expensive for taxpayers, it carries high social costs. It destroys families and the livelihoods of those locked up. The harm done to families cascades down into future generations.

Prison should not be the default method of punishment for most crimes. Prison should be reserved for violent offenders who should be isolated from the rest of the population. We need to expand the use of fines, restitution, house arrest, supervised probation and community service for nonviolent offenders.

We can punish people in ways that preserve their families and their ability to rejoin the workforce after their punishment.

There have been many voices pushing, sometimes successfully, for this kind of reform within the General Assembly. But when business interests add their weight behind the call, it may tip the scales in favor of meaningful change.

South Carolina chamber officials have said that expanding the workforce is one of their top priorities. Reducing the social and economic costs of mass incarceration should be a priority for all state leaders.

Online: http://www.goupstate.com/

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Jan. 9

The Post and Courier of Charleston on airport preparedness after snow shut down South Carolina’s busiest airport:

Charleston isn’t very well prepared for five inches of snow. It’s just not a challenge that pops up very often. Prior to last week, the last time the city faced a winter storm that bad was almost 30 years ago.

So it’s no surprise that snowfall effectively shut down Charleston International Airport on Jan. 3 as it piled up on the runway. Without special equipment on hand, airport and Air Force officials couldn’t do much more than watch and wait.

“The last time we had this big of an issue was in 1989, and it wasn’t as big a problem then because we didn’t have the traffic we do now,” explained airport CEO Paul Campbell.

But it is inexcusable that airport operations didn’t fully resume again until Sunday morning.

The paralysis of South Carolina’s busiest airport left thousands of passengers stranded and more than 400 flights cancelled. And given that the airport runways are owned by Joint Base Charleston, the whole debacle represented a threat to military readiness as well.

The Air Force decides when to close and open the runways at the airport.

It’s understandable that the airport and the Air Force don’t keep special snow-and-ice-clearing equipment around for a crisis situation that presents itself only once every few decades. For the most part, that would be a waste of money.

But there should have at least been a formal plan in place for getting things up and running more quickly. Waiting for Mother Nature to help doesn’t cut it.

“How do you plan for a 30-year event?” Mr. Campbell asked in an interview with The Post and Courier on Sunday.

Really it shouldn’t be too hard.

Five inches of snow is uncommon in the Lowcountry, but flurries and freezing rain are not. The airport has contingencies in place for other types of severe weather, and heavy snowfall shouldn’t be an exception.

And there was plenty of prior warning too.

When weather forecasts began calling for snow last week, airport and base officials should have started looking for plows and salt. And if they weren’t immediately available locally, arrangements should have been made to bring in equipment from elsewhere.

Interstates and major roads in the area were quickly cleared of most ice after last Wednesday’s storm. In fact, a lot of stranded airline passengers rented cars and drove to their destinations or nearby airports instead. Charleston’s airport remained closed days after others in the Southeast had cleared away ice and snow and resumed operations.

Snow plows eventually cleared the runways in Charleston, and sunshine helped melt the last of the ice by late Saturday afternoon.

“I know we got criticized for it, but safety is our priority here,” explained Campbell. No question, it would have been unacceptable to allow planes to operate in unsafe conditions.

But there are plenty of lessons to be learned.

Mr. Campbell suggested that the next time something like this happens, the airport could have a contractor on standby, start responding earlier and improve communication with airlines.

The last point is particularly critical. One runway opened early Saturday morning, but miscommunication and logistical issues prevented any flights from landing or taking off before Sunday.

It’s entirely possible that the airport won’t need a snow emergency plan for another generation. Or it might need one next month. The weather is unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared for a variety of scenarios.

And whether the next big snowstorm happens next year or in 2040, the Charleston airport needs to be ready.

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

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Jan. 8

Index-Journal of Greenwood on the decision to not award high-value severance packages to executives of an energy utility:

Maybe the directors of SCANA deserve some accolades, but their decision not to give parachutes to the executives who essentially set fire to the plane before bailing out should have been a no-brainer.

Severance packages worth tens of millions of dollars could have been awarded to former CEO Kevin Marsh and Steve Byrne, operations chief, but they hardly would have earned the payout. Recall that in July SCANA’s subsidiary, South Carolina Electric & Gas, scrapped the planned expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, leaving more than 700,000 customers with a shocking bill of $37 million a month. SCE&G; and Santee Cooper, its partner and a state-owned utility, spent nearly $10 billion on the construction project before scuttling it.

Three months later, Marsh and Byrne announced their retirements, perhaps appropriately enough on Halloween.

Don’t feel too sorry for the pair of executives. While utility customers have endured higher costs, these two have enjoyed significantly increased wages. In April, the Aiken Standard’s former editor, Michael Smith, delved into the pair’s earnings. At the time, Marsh was the top utility chief earner with an annual salary of $6.1 million. That represented an increase of more than $375,000 above his 2015 salary. For perspective, consider Smith’s findings: “Marsh’s total compensation is greater than the combined salaries of all South Carolina House and Senate members. Individual legislators are paid $10,400 a year in salary and $12,000 in per diem expenses, or $22,400 in annual compensation, according to S.C. Ethics Commission filings.”

Byrne, Smith reported, was the second highest paid SCANA executive, earning $2.58 million, an increase of $175,455.

Need another reason not to feel sorry?

Both will continue to benefit anyway. Marsh will get free health insurance until he turns 65 and Byrne’s health insurance will be covered for a year and a half. Both also own company stock, which, not unlike their 2015 pay raises, rocketed last week after SCANA agreed to be acquired by Dominion Energy.

“This decision is in the unique context of the abandonment and the company’s responsibilities to our ratepayers and shareholders,” SCANA spokesman Eric Boomhower wrote in an email Friday in announcing the parachutes would not be deployed.

Small comfort for those left in the dark and for those left holding the bill. But the right decision. To have given the severance packages would have been akin to committing white collar crime.

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com/

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