South Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier on South Carolina’s civil forfeiture law:
It’s nice to know that a Horry County judge ruled South Carolina’s civil forfeiture law unconstitutional in several different ways. But that’s not much comfort to people who have had cars, cash and other valuables seized without even being charged with — much less convicted of — a crime.
Now it’s time for the Legislature to take a swing at the curveball that is civil asset forfeiture and knock the odious practice out of the park. After all, it is the Legislature’s rightful duty to make law, not the courts.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, provided a blueprint that 93 of his colleagues signed onto this past legislative session, but worries over how the bill might affect other quirks in state law prompted House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, to send the legislation to a study panel headed by retired judge Rep. Gary Clary, R-Clemson. So we expect the Legislature to have a refined bill ready to act on when lawmakers get back to work in earnest in January.
Investigations by The Post and Courier in 2017 and the Greenville News this year have shown how the law has incentivized law enforcement agencies to seize assets, sometimes without even filing criminal charges, and put people in the legally backward position of having to prove their innocence to get their property back.
Practically speaking, that means you could lose a new car if your teenage son was driving it when he was arrested with a few grams of pot. To get the car back, you would have to go to court and prove you didn’t know he had the pot.
The Greenville News’ series looked at some 3,200 seizures and $17.6 million in assets taken over a three-year period. In about 800 cases, no criminal charges were filed, and in another 800 cases in which charges were filed, there were no convictions. The series also found that roughly two-thirds of seized assets came from black men, calling into question whether the law was being applied fairly.
As it is, law enforcement agencies get to keep about 75% of the booty, while prosecutors get 20% and the state’s general fund gets 5%.
Proceeds of forfeitures help buoy law enforcement budgets, but accounting rules are lax and forfeiture money is prone to misuse. For example, former Columbia-area prosecutor Dan Johnson was convicted earlier this year of misusing public funds that included asset forfeiture money.
Ruling last year in an Indiana case in which a $48,000 Range Rover was seized along with about $320 in drugs, the U.S. Supreme Court found that state’s forfeiture law violated the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on excessive fines; the ruling also applied to other states. So it was no wonder that a Horry County judge recently affirmed that, and also ruled that South Carolina’s law violated the S.C. constitution, as well the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Rep. Clemmons’ bill would abolish the S.C. civil asset forfeiture law and replace it with criminal forfeiture, so a conviction would be required for forfeiture, thus shifting the burden of proof back to the state, where it should be. The bill also would redirect seized assets to the state to remove the incentive for law enforcement to be overly aggressive.
Certainly criminals should not be allowed to profit from their crimes. The bill wouldn’t stop police from seizing criminal assets — just ensure that it is done legally and fairly. Lawmakers would be wise to abolish civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina before the courts force their hand.
The Times and Democrat on traffic deaths in South Carolina:
The signs are common, mostly in residential neighborhoods where they call attention to speed: “Drive like your children live here.” Perhaps it’s time for signs on all roads expanding the message: “Drive like you want to keep living here” - meaning drive like you want to stay alive.
Too many South Carolinians are not. The latest numbers from the S.C. Department of Public Safety show 758 people have been killed on S.C. highways in 2019, including five this past weekend. The toll, thankfully, is less than last year’s 822 at this time but horrific nonetheless.
Speed is a factor - and nowhere more so than the Palmetto State.
According to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as analyzed by Driving-Tests.org, one in four fatal car crashes involves speeding. And South Carolina is the worst of the worst for speed-related crash deaths.
According to the data:
- South Carolina had the most speeding deaths per capita in 2017, with 8.28 deaths per 100,000 residents. No other state had a death rate over 6.74.
- Rural roads with speed limits of 55 account for two times as many speeding deaths as any other road type.
- Sunday is the worst day of the week for speeding deaths, and the most dangerous times are between 12 and 2 a.m. and 9 and 11 p.m.
Put the new findings on top of those from earlier this year with Esurance analyzing NHTSA data and the picture is even darker:
- South Carolina is No. 3 for the most dangerous state for drivers with 19.7 crash fatalities per 100,000 residents.
- South Carolina has had a 22.2% increase in crash fatalities over the past five years, one of the largest increases in the nation.
- And 42% of roadway fatalities are due to speeding.
In total, according to SCDPS, there were 44,810 speed-related collisions on South Carolina roadways in 2018, and more than 36% of all fatal roadway crashes in the state were speed-related.
Other studies have shown that South Carolina motorists on average drive 10 mph over the speed limit because they believe troopers won’t stop them at that speed. Experience seems to bear that out, with interstate stops often being motorists traveling in excess of 80 mph. There also is the on-the-road and in-the-courtroom practice of reducing tickets to the lesser violation of speeding under 10 mph.
But there is no written policy on not pulling over someone exceeding the speed limit by less than 10 mph. And there certainly is no guarantee that a citation for speeding more than 10 mph will be reduced.
While it is ample punishment to many when they must fork over the fine for speeding under 10 mph and/or suffer higher insurance premiums, there are clearly situations in which the more serious speeding violation should stand.
That’s why troopers say when to make a stop is at their discretion. With most motorists exceeding the limit, it has to be.
There’s considerable difference in driving 79 mph on an interstate highway with little traffic and clear conditions than doing even 71 mph on a crowded highway with rain falling. Driving according to conditions remains a viable consideration in traffic law enforcement.
Slowing down can mean fewer accidents, fewer lives lost and less expense. And you’re not even going to lose much time.
Speeding, with the goal of making up time on the road, has a surprisingly small payback. A driver traveling 20 miles in a 60 mph zone saves only 1.5 minutes by going 65, 2.9 minutes by going 70, four minutes at 75 mph, five minutes at 80 mph and 5.9 minutes at 85 mph.
“Drive like you want to keep living here.” It’s time for South Carolinians to take the message to heart.
The Post and Courier on improving education in South Carolina:
It’s hard to keep up with all the studies touting South Carolina as a great place to do business. The latest, from Area Development magazine, ranked South Carolina third-best overall in its 2019 Top States for Doing Business, behind only Georgia and Tennessee.
The magazine based its rankings on states’ objective and subjective scores on a dozen attributes. It found that South Carolina had the nation’s best business incentives and its second-best workforce development programs.
We finished third in shovel-ready sites, cooperative and responsive state government, favorable utility rates, speed of permitting and overall cost of doing business. We had the fourth most favorable regulatory environment and the fifth most competitive labor environment.
Pretty heady stuff.
But it raises the question: If we’re doing such a great job making ourselves a friendly place for businesses to locate and expand, why aren’t we better off?
Clearly, we are landing more than our share of big fish — with Boeing, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and practically every tire maker in the world, we’ve built aerospace and automotive industries pretty much from scratch in a generation. And smaller but still impressive businesses are announcing plans to open and expand here on a weekly basis. These are astonishing achievements.
And there can be a significant lag time between a company deciding it wants to move to South Carolina and actually hiring a workforce.
Still, our incomes lag. Our health is bad, our life expectancy low. We have high crime rates and low literacy rates.
That suggests we’re falling short somewhere.
If you haven’t already figured out where, just talk to S.C. business, community and political leaders, and they’ll tell you immediately: Our education system is holding us back.
Too few people graduate from college. Too few graduate from high school. Too many who do finish high school aren’t ready for a job or higher education. Too many third-graders can’t read. Too many kids aren’t enrolled in the preschool programs that would prepare them for success in kindergarten, and third grade, and high school, and college.
Although we have great workforce-training programs, we don’t have enough people who can complete those programs and meet the needs of the businesses moving to our state — businesses that are ready to pay the high wages and provide the attractive benefits to raise our average income and improve our health and enhance our quality of life. So we don’t attract as many good jobs as we should, given how competitive we look otherwise.
As Gov. Henry McMaster put it in his inaugural address in January: “Our success in today’s worldwide economic competition depends on our intellectual capacity, training, research and development, knowledge, innovation and imagination. In a word, on our brain power. That is why South Carolina’s commitment to education must be second to none in the United States.”
But it isn’t.
Lawmakers did act this year to approve the biggest pay raises for teachers in decades, along with money to put more mental health counselors and police in schools, and temporary relief from some standardized tests — all designed to stem the growing teacher shortage. But despite the governor’s encouragement, despite the House’s approval, the Senate adjourned for the year without passing legislation designed to attract and retain top teachers and increase the chance that those teachers will have supportive principals and superintendents and school board members, by making it easier for the state to intervene when districts fail to provide kids the education they need.
And that package didn’t even touch the truly significant changes we need, like overhauling a funding system that helps hold back poor communities, and providing early interventions — 4-year-old kindergarten, yes, but even earlier than that — for children who grow up in poverty and lack the stimulation that middle-class kids have, so they start school behind and get farther behind every year.
We’re already doing a great job with the traditional economic-development criteria. Improving our regulatory environment from fourth-friendliest in the nation to second-friendliest, or moving our best-in-the-nation economic incentives to best-plus-plus isn’t what’s going to move the needle on our health and wealth and happiness. Providing a decent education to all the children in our state . that’s how we make a difference.