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South Carolina editorial roundup

Associated Press Updated: May 6, 2015 at 12:47 pm
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Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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May 6

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on criminal justice reform:

Members of the South Carolina Congressional delegation are rightfully keen to consider long overdue criminal justice reform.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said on Sunday that he and other Republicans in the state are eying sweeping criminal justice reforms that could include the decriminalization of minor drug offenses.

Law enforcement should certainly continue to be viewed through a local lens across the country, but it's also time for a national response.

Scott isn't the first to try to tackle these issues, but it's a particularly positive sign to have a representative of South Carolina pushing for such needed reform.

"I'm very interested and very engaged in studying the patterns of who we incarcerate, why we incarcerate and what we can do about it," Scott said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" news program.

A series of incidents across the nation, including in North Charleston and most recently in Baltimore, have clearly put the spotlight on the need to draft some kind of comprehensive reform. These issues, which have resulted in the deaths of black men at the hands of police, should provide a clear impetus for Congress to take some type of action.

Part of these growing tensions certainly involve a deep-seated and growing mistrust of police, as well as high unemployment, high poverty and high rates of incarceration. These factors have made it all too easy for a controversial police encounter to create a firestorm of accusations and emotion.

There are certainly millions of interactions between law enforcement and the public each day that go perfectly fine. However, this string of incidents should be a true call for action.

Expanded use of technology, including body cameras by police, can certainly help, as well as improved training of law enforcement on the use of force. Both state lawmakers and those at the federal level have wisely given consideration to providing those resources to law enforcement agencies.

This is clearly a pivotal moment in policing, and body cameras should make a difference. Acquiring such technology has garnered needed traction in Aiken County with the death of Earnest Satterwhite at the hands of former North Augusta Public Safety Officer Justin Craven. That department wisely implemented the use of body cameras for every sworn officer earlier this month. Cameras, of course, are not a panacea, but they should increase the trust and comfort level over time. In effect, this would give policy agencies a greater ability to show what exactly they are doing. Also, one study conducted in Rialto, California indicated that body cameras actually resulted in a 90 percent drop in complaints against police officers and a 60 percent drop in the use of force.

This issue, however, goes beyond equipping police officers with greater technology. There are other steps to take, including broadening educational and workplace opportunities.

Scott has tried to incorporate these initiatives into bills he's proposed that he refers to as an "Opportunity Agenda," which aims to lessen the gap on income inequality through providing such opportunities.

Scott, in particular, urged a focus - "first and foremost" - on education to break the cycle of mass incarcerations, particularly of low-income minorities.

"There is a trend that can be broken at its foundation if we focus first on education and second on work skills," he said.

It's positive to see lawmakers putting this kind of attention toward an issue that was overlooked for too long. It's also garnered bipartisan consideration as Scott noted he's worked with not only Republicans such as his South Carolina counterpart Lindsey Graham in the U.S. Senate, but also Democratic leaders such as Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

This issue has also already gained traction in the 2016 presidential race. An overhaul of the U.S. criminal justice system looks increasingly possible with presidential contenders such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the Democratic side, and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, on the Republican side, calling for reform, which has helped to raise the issue's profile.

That kind of growing consensus across the political spectrum is no doubt positive. Unfortunately, to some degree, they have bubbled to the surface because of the string of cringe-worthy incidents that have happened across the country.

There have been few bipartisan breakthroughs in Washington as of late. This would be a tremendous one for the future of the country.

Online:

http://www.aikenstandard.com

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May 6

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on Veterans Affairs boss:

President Barack Obama brought in Robert McDonald to head the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs last year after discovery of fraudulent records, a pattern of reprisals against whistleblowers and a deadly failure to treat eligible veterans in a timely fashion by the agency's health administration.

Now Secretary McDonald, a West Point graduate who served in the military and corporate-executive realms, has evidently fallen into the familiar trap of exaggerating his accomplishments and blaming Congress for his problems. Doing so reduces the nation's confidence in his ability to manage his troubled agency.

Earlier this year, Mr. McDonald told NBC's "Meet the Press," ''Nine hundred employees have been fired since I became secretary," implying that they were "accountable" for lapses in the VA system. Included among them, he said, were "60 people who manipulated wait times" to falsely claim veterans were not being denied timely appointments. He added that "about 100 senior leaders ... are also under investigation."

But VA documents provided to Congress and recently reported by The New York Times appear to refute these claims. They show that the department punished only eight of its 280,000 employees for involvement in the scandal. The Times reported that one was fired, one was forced to retire, one is about to be fired and five were reprimanded or suspended for up to two months.

So much for a clean sweep.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., noticed — and exposed — the self-serving discrepancies in the secretary's version of events. In a letter to Mr. McDonald late last week, Rep. Miller pointed out that "your own misstatements to the media" prompted his committee's decision to release data setting the record straight.

Yet the secretary seems determined to play the victim. In a recent appearance before the Association of Health Care Journalists, he blamed the VA's problems on a tight budget and a rising work load, presumably caused by an aging veteran population.

He also complained about a House-proposed cut in next year's budget of $1.4 billion — or less than 1 percent. Never mind that the VA's budget has increased by roughly two-thirds during the Obama presidency to $164 billion this year. ...

Meanwhile, evidence is accumulating that whistleblowers in the department are still being subjected to retaliation. Whatever steps Mr. McDonald has taken to discipline abuses of power have clearly not been sufficient to bring senior VA health officials in line.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said the VA is suffering from "an epidemic" of retaliation against whistleblowers and has written McDonald to ask what steps, if any, are being taken to put an end to the practice.

Courageous whistleblowers at several VA hospitals last year provided the first evidence of fraudulent records and denial of service at the VA.

By inflating his achievements while failing to stop abusive staff practices and by passing the buck, Mr. McDonald raises serious questions about his fitness for the job.

If he can't do better, the administration should start looking for leadership that can.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com

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May 6

Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on infrastructure needs:

Gov. Nikki Haley has a track record of success in attracting industry to South Carolina. She boasts of landing more than $15 billion in investment from business and industry and more than 64,000 jobs since taking office in 2011.

No matter how you dissect those numbers in announcements vs. actual jobs created, the Haley term has been a post-recession renaissance, particularly for manufacturing.

Reports such as one on Tuesday back up South Carolina's position as a national leader in attracting development.

While Site Selection magazine named neighboring North Carolina its Top Competitive State for 2014, a recognition based on a 10-part index of investment-attraction criteria, South Carolina landed the fourth spot nationally and is second in the region.

States are awarded points according to their performance in each category. North Carolina, with 409 points, narrowly beat Louisiana's 408.5, and the rest of the top five were not far behind: Texas finished third with 406, South Carolina was fourth (405.5) and Tennessee placed fifth (404).

Recently, Haley spoke during a manufacturing awards luncheon in Greenville, saying she is not satisfied with South Carolina resting on its laurels.

"Where does South Carolina take our next step?'" Haley said. "We don't relax. We don't enjoy it. We now have to work twice as hard to keep it. .

"The success of a state is not necessarily in job numbers. It's not necessarily in financial growth,'" she said. "Success in a state is opportunity and quality of life."

If success in attracting jobs and building quality of life is to continue, the governor and state lawmakers cannot afford to end this legislative session without moving forward on infrastructure repairs.

Industrial leaders are telling Haley and the state's leadership that the condition of the roads and bridges threatens South Carolina's enviable position in attracting new development and in retaining and sustaining the businesses that call the state home today. ...

With North Carolina already ahead of the Palmetto State in the rankings and Georgia 10th, South Carolina does not have to look far to see who will take advantage of any lapse in the state's ability to compete.

On Monday in Orangeburg, Haley again blamed the Legislature for failure to act on roads. She said she has consistently asked the lawmakers to take additional revenues and put them toward roads.

"We tried that over the last two years and they did not do that," Haley said. "So then we said 'OK, fine. If you are insistent about raising the gas tax, you have to go and put all this additional money back into the pockets of businesses and back into the pockets of the taxpayers.'"

What has and has not happened to date is no excuse for failure in 2015. The governor has a plan, the House has a plan and the Senate has a plan.

If they fail to find a compromise, it's a political pox on all their houses. It's going to take years to fix the state's roads and every day that passes is longer and longer before the poorer, less-developed counties such as those in The T&D Region see infrastructure improvements which are a key ingredient in helping us become more a part of the economic growth we hope will continue long past the time when Haley's term as governor ends in 2018.

Online:

http://thetandd.com/

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