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South Carolina editorial roundup

Associated Press Updated: February 18, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


Feb. 15

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on protecting kids in locked cars:

A bill being considered in the S.C. House to help protect children left alone in cars is a good example of legislation that shouldn't be necessary but unfortunately is.

The bill would protect bystanders from punishment or lawsuits by car owners if they bash in one of the car's windows to rescue endangered children or disabled adults. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and Speaker President Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, cosponsored the bill.

The bill would address a genuine problem. Since 1997, 10 unattended South Carolina children have died from overheating in cars. Nationwide, according to the advocacy group, 31 children, including three in South Carolina, died from overheating in cars last year.

In South Carolina, it is illegal to leave a child under the age of 9 alone in a car for more than five minutes. Children also are considered "unattended" if they are left in the care of someone younger than 12.

Police, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel already are protected from liability when rescuing children in cars. The law allows them to use "any means that is reasonably necessary" to protect the child

The new bill would extend much the same legal protection to bystanders who might spot an infant left inside a car on a hot day. Civilian rescuers can break a window to get to the child, but they are required to call 911 before or immediately after doing so.

If they are acting in good faith, they won't be subject to any legal liability for damages.

South Carolina has a so-called "Good Samaritan" law that protects bystanders from lawsuits if they help accident or fire victims. Extending the protection to those who help children in locked cars makes perfect sense.

One would think support for this bill would be unanimous. But Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott offered a nonsensical opposing view. Lott said he prefers allowing firefighters or police to assess the situation and do their jobs.

"Someone might see a kid with their eyes closed and drool coming out of their mouth, and the kid might just be asleep," Lott said. "It's hard to legislate common sense."

But it's against the law to leave young children alone in a car under any circumstances. And how are bystanders supposed to know for sure if the children are just napping or in danger of dying?

In situations such as this, seconds can make a difference. The law should encourage bystanders to act, not hesitate because they are worried about being sued.

Ironically, the new bill also could serve as a deterrent to those who might be tempted to leave a child unattended in a car for more than five minutes. If they realize they are running the risk of some stranger breaking a car window, they are likely to think twice before risking the life of a child.

It should be noted that the law does not cover the rescue of animals. While leaving pets in a hot car also can be a recipe for disaster, bystanders should call authorities, not break a window to save them.

Sheriff Lott is right that you can't legislate common sense. But at least this law protects people who come to the rescue of those without sense enough not to leave children unattended in cars.



Feb. 16

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on the Pentagon:

New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been told by auditors that his new headquarters doesn't know how big it is, preventing it from beginning a promised and much-needed reduction in staff.

The news should make him laugh and cry at the same time. The Pentagon has such an unwieldy personnel system that it does not know how many people it actually employs, the Government Accountability Office has determined.

The Pentagon agencies include the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force secretariats and staffs, and other headquarters support agencies. The total number of jobs spills over from the Pentagon's capacity of 24,000 into adjacent government office buildings.

Those agencies grew rapidly after the war on terror was launched in 2001. Army civilian and military staff rose 60 percent from 2001 to 2013, for example.

Now that large U.S. deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have ended, it is clearly time to begin shrinking the headquarters back to a sensible, and manageable size. Congress has demanded cuts. Departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised a 20 percent reduction.

But nothing has happened, apparently because nobody knows where to begin. The Pentagon workforce contains a confusing mix of civil servants, military personnel and contract employees. A top civil servant informally known as the mayor of the Pentagon is supposed to keep tabs on all this, but like Congress lacks the data needed.

That is because none of the headquarters organizations systematically and continuously determines its staffing requirements, the GAO found.

The problem may be traced back to the loss of legislative caps imposed on Pentagon offices by Congress in the 1980s and 1990s. If such caps were in place today, the GAO estimated, Army staff would exceed the targets by 17 percent. Navy staff would be too large by 74 percent.

But the caps were waived by Congress in 2002. Unfortunately, nothing took their place.

The Defense Department complained that the GAO report failed to take into account the "complex and multilayered structure" required to carry out Pentagon missions. But there is also evidence of Pentagon foot-dragging in meeting the new congressional demand for a leaner headquarters.

Explaining why the Pentagon missed a congressional deadline for a plan to downsize, a Defense Department spokesman said the office responsible for the report "has undergone both a leadership change and a staff reorganization, which redirected efforts away from the report."

This behavior will be familiar to connoisseurs of bureaucratic resistance to change as recorded by observers such as C. Northcote Parkinson, whose famous study of the inflexible size of the admiralty staff of the Royal Navy gave rise to Parkinson's Law — "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was assistant secretary of the Navy years before he became president, described its resistance to change: "To change anything in the Navy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching."

Carter, confirmed last week by the Senate, obviously has work cut out for him, on matters large and small, as he takes over at the Pentagon.



Feb. 16

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on social media in prisons not mixing:

A social media problem that appears to exist in South Carolina prisons goes beyond just a head scratcher.

It's an issue that's outright ridiculous on two levels. According to an article published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group, the S.C. Department of Corrections is actually throwing inmates in solitary confinement for decades merely for posting to Facebook.

The foundation found that 16 inmates in South Carolina caught using social media were sentenced to more than a decade in solitary confinement, a punishment that's actually harsher than killing, raping or rioting in state prisons. First, the fact that prisoners even have access to social media is mind boggling.

However, it's even worse that the punishment for it is so much more stringent than those much more extreme cases. The article, which was published Thursday, cited one convicted burglar who was given 37 years in solitary lockup and lost 74 years worth of telephone and visitation privileges for making 38 posts to Facebook.

It's certainly understandable that the state's Department of Correction wants to crack down on the use of social media by prisoners. Any inmate with access to websites such as Facebook almost undoubtedly gained access through illegal means, likely a contraband phone. That kind of access certainly needs to be eliminated.

However, in 2012, the Department of Corrections ramped up punishment so high that inmates caught using social media or contraband cellphones are now viewed as committing Level 1 offenses, placing them on par with serious acts of violence.

The article notes that "if a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated Facebook every day for two weeks."

This certainly raises questions about the different layers of punishment. Having access to Facebook from prison doesn't make sense, but neither does having the punishment system that's so out of balance.

The state's Department of Corrections should be as vigilant as possible when it comes to such activity.

However, it also needs to revise its sentencing mandates so that these types of offenses aren't put on the same bar with much more violent and extreme behavior.


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