Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on human trafficking:
Slavery is most often referenced in the context of the past. Unfortunately, it is very real in South Carolina today in the form of trafficking in people - many of them women and children - as human commodities. Most are held against their will as prostitutes or sex slaves.
This past year, South Carolina lawmakers approved legislation to expand the scope of the Statewide Grand Jury's powers to combat human trafficking.
Attorney General Alan Wilson sought the power to be able to effectively take on cases that cross county lines as victims are frequently trafficked through various parts of the state.
"These criminals must move quickly in order to evade police and make the most money. They are not concerned with staying inside county lines, and we shouldn't be either," Wilson has said.
With the power of the Statewide Grand Jury, South Carolina is now able to more adequately prosecute these criminals and is better equipped to identify trafficking rings and/or other cases across the state.
According to a new Clemson University study, the legislation did not come a moment too soon as human trafficking in South Carolina may be more prevalent than previously thought.
Nearly 20 percent of past kidnapping and prostitution case files analyzed from police incident reports in Greenville County over a three-year period (2010-2012) had markers indicating the presence of human trafficking, said the study's leader, Mark Small, a professor in Clemson's youth, family and community studies department and associate director of Clemson's Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life.
Historically, human trafficking was viewed as a problem of smuggling and illegal migration, but it more recently has been seen as a problem of commercial sexual exploitation, especially of minors, and of forced labor, especially through the use of coercion or fraud, Small said.
The U.S. government criminalized human trafficking in 2000, and states began revising their criminal codes soon after. In 2012, South Carolina passed legislation making human trafficking a felony with a first offense carrying a penalty up to 15 years in prison. Trafficking with a minor can add an additional 15 years.
"There is a great deal of interest in addressing the problem of human trafficking in South Carolina, but very little data on prevalence and severity of the problem," Small said. "Because South Carolina only recently passed legislation criminalizing human trafficking, data collection is just now beginning across the state ... Our study indicates that this is likely a serious problem in the state." ....
In South Carolina, awareness of the problem is vital in building strong support for combating it in every way with every available resource. Human trafficking (slavery) is unacceptable and its purveyors should be stopped and harshly punished.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on the state's higher education system:
For decades, South Carolina's public colleges and universities have lacked adequate statewide oversight and control. Unfortunately, as students at the College of Charleston and The Citadel arrive this week for the Fall semester, the situation will be no different.
Changing the state's system of governance had some legislative support in this year's session, but not enough to make it happen.
So the Commission on Higher Education will continue to provide a modicum of central authority and oversight — though not enough to be effective.
The state is no closer to providing the kind of governance structure that would prevent another debacle like the one that left S.C. State University on life support.
At the urging of Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, the House voted to eliminate funding for the CHE. That didn't happen, and shouldn't have happened without the Legislature first deciding what should take its place. But the move did signal an acknowledgement that the CHE, as it is now structured, isn't working.
In many cases, it is little more than a rubber stamp for larger state university requests.
What higher education needs is a strong central authority that can limit duplication and fairly coordinate the competing interests of the state's sprawling public university and college system. The board of regents model used by 39 other states would meet the need.
Unfortunately, legislation in the House and the Senate to establish a board of regents died in committee. That's a pity.
If South Carolina had such a body, South Carolina State would not have been allowed to operate for years with management that left it millions of dollars in debt, declining enrollment and even internal corruption.
State funding for colleges has sharply declined as a percentage of overall higher ed budgets, making it even more important that allocations are fair and reasonable. That is something a board of regents could ably oversee. State support shouldn't be a popularity contest, which will always be won by the higher ed powerhouses of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina. They have comparatively large endowments and the most alumni.
The CHE has about 40 full-time employees and a $3 million budget. It is supposedly responsible for general academic excellence, administering financial aid and approving building projects and land purchases.
But when the Legislature was debating what to do about S.C. State's financial problems, the CHE was not part of the discussion. And when there was a discussion about a third state supported medical school in Greenville, the CHE was cut out of the conversation.
If the CHE had more authority, and more respect from the General Assembly, it could have made a difference in each situation.
The Legislature should take a lesson from the S.C. State situation and concede that the state needs a central higher ed authority to provide greater oversight and accountability.
The state needs to make tough choices to ensure that its public higher education system is using its limited resources in the most effective way. The current system is not doing the job.
Herald-Journal of Spartanburg on repairing roads:
A coalition of conservative groups is pushing to delay any additional funding to improve the state's roads and bridges until the state transportation system is reformed.
The coalition is right about reform, but wrong about funding.
The Associated Press reports that Americans for Prosperity, the Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Policy Council and the Campaign for Liberty have joined forces on the issue. They are pushing lawmakers to hold off on any increase in highway funding, particularly any increase in the gasoline tax, until reforms are made.
Reform is overdue for the state Department of Transportation. The department is one of those state agencies run by a commission appointed mostly by lawmakers. This leads to inefficiency and a lack of accountability.
Audits have revealed that the department has wasted millions in taxpayers' money. It has deceived lawmakers about its financial condition. It has focused on the pet projects of commissioners rather than state priorities. But no one is held accountable.
That's because all elected officials can point to the unelected commission and claim they aren't responsible for the department. That system needs to end. The commission should be abolished, and the department should be fully integrated into the governor's Cabinet so the governor can be accountable for its performance.
But this coalition is wrong about waiting for that reform to happen before discussing funding. South Carolina has serious road needs that have been put off far too long. At the same time that lawmakers were refusing to fix the Transportation Department, they were balancing the state budget by deferring maintenance on the state's roads. That work has added up.
Interstate 85 is a good example. Anyone who uses it to drive between here and Greenville knows how bad its condition is. When the state finally got around to repaving the road earlier this year, officials found it had been ignored so long that the roadbed was damaged to such an extent that it can't be repaved. Fixing the highway will now be a much more expensive project.
Roads across the state are in similar disrepair. Transportation officials believe it will take almost $40 billion over the next 25 years to improve the Palmetto State's roads to the point where they can handle the traffic they are carrying.
Driving on substandard or poorly maintained roads is a safety issue. It's also an economic issue. Motorists have to pay substantially higher vehicle maintenance costs, and poor roads hurt state efforts to lure new industries here.
We need to reform the way the state handles its road building and maintenance. But we also need to increase funding to take care of the backlog of deferred maintenance before it gets worse and more expensive. We cannot afford to wait on either side of this issue. Lawmakers need to tackle both as soon as possible.