September 2, 2014

Congress OK’s more access to healthcare for veterans

Congress has addressed the problems for military veterans getting prompt health care with a bipartisan bill which goes to President Obama for signing. The legislation would allow veterans to seek private health care if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility, or are unable to get an appointment at a VA facility within 30 days.

Congressman Joe Wilson works closely with veterans in South Carolina and is chairman of the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

He told South Carolina Radio Network that this measure also addresses accountability.

“The whole reason that I knew there was a problem at the Dorn VA Hospital is that the professional staff there contacted our office…and they let us know there were problems that needed to be addressed with delays in colonoscopies, with the problems related to infection rates in the operating rooms,” said Wilson.

An audit released in June found that a veterans hospital in Columbia had one of the longest average wait times in the country for first-time patients seeking an appointment. Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston also had first-time appointment waits of up to 45 days.

Wilson said legislation makes it easier to fire or demote senior VA managers who are not doing their jobs.

“There were so many protections to employment that persons could do wrong, sadly, as we found out at the Dorn VA hospital and the Charlie Norwood Hospital in Augusta (GA), we had people who weren’t doing their job and the only way to address this was to promote them and move them somewhere else,” he said.

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act provides for more staffing as needed in overworked VA facilities. According to the Congressional Budget Office, H.R. 3230 would result in additional direct spending totaling $35 billion over fiscal years 2014-2024.


Spearman wins GOP nomination for SC education chief

Spearman -wide

Spearman, left, gets congratulations after Tuesday night’s win.

Molly Spearman defeated Sally Atwater in the Republican run-off for state Superintendent of Education.

Spearman has been active in the South Carolina education community for the past three decades, while Atwater worked just as long in federal education policy. Spearman targeted Atwater’s time away from her home state in her ads, saying South Carolina needs to “keep Washington out of our classrooms.”

Atwater, the widow of one of the most powerful players in national politics in the 1980′s, Lee Atwater, surrounded herself with some of the state’s most established Republicans.  Her campaign challenged Spearman’s party credentials, since she became Republican in the Reagan years, but later worked under Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat, after campaigning against her.

Spearman’s most active supporters came from within the education community, including a bipartisan team of former SC teachers of the year who spoke to teachers on her behalf in the past two weeks.

Spearman also served four terms as a South Carolina legislator in the 1990s.

Since she joined the race, Spearman has been on part-time status as the director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. 

Spearman will face Tom Thompson in November’s General Election. He defeated the top primary vote-getter Sheila Gallagher in Tuesday’s run-off.

Thompson is a former dean of graduate studies at South Carolina State University. He is now the PhD administrator for Walden University, an online school based in Minneapolis, MN.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The most telling numbers of the election night are the disparate turnouts between the two parties.

With 96 percent of precints reporting, Spearman had about 71,500 votes (57 percent of GOP voters) and Thompson had about 22, 280 (59 percent of Democratic voters).

Haley vetoes 76 budget items, $18.5 million in spending (AUDIO)

Gov. Nikki Haley’s list of $18.5 million she wants out of the new state spending plan includes what she calls “dozens of earmarks and directed appropriations that benefit special interests at the expense of the general public.”

She presented her explanation of 76 veto items to the Legislature on Thursday. Lawmakers return to the Statehouse Tuesday, June 17, to decided which of those cuts will stand.

Read entire summary of Haley vetoes here.   Watch video of the press conference.

“We’ve gotten people angry about soccer fields and boats and swimming pools, you name it. Yeah this stuff is personal for them, ” Haley said in a press conference. “I lot of what legislators do is do things for their constituents. The hard part for me is I understand what they are trying to do, but I have a role to play.”

Lt. Gov. McConnell requested extra funds in the budget to help caregivers for the aging. (File)

Lt. Gov. McConnell requested extra funds in the budget to help caregivers for the aging. (File)

Included in her veto list are $2 million dollars for the Office on Aging to help pay for home and community-based caregivers. The program is under Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s budget and an increase he has pushed for this year. Haley’s reasoning is that the Lt. Gov’s Office recurring funding has increased by 31 percent.

McConnell argued in his request that offering home-based services saves the state money and keeps the state’s seniors out of expensive nursing homes.

“It’s not that we don’t think that there’s legitimacy to that; it’s too much too fast,” Haley told media. “I know that that’s the presumption of it but that’s not the fact of it. We need to make sure that’s a fact before we allow it to grow that fast.”

“We can look at it again next year and see if that is something that works well.”

The governor also shot down a pay increase for the General Assembly. Lawmakers have set aside an $12,000 each for reimbursement for district offices.

“This not the way to do, this is not the time to do it. The other concern was that this wasn’t just a $12,000 pay raise, it was also added to their compensation so it was a pension increase slipped in last-minute. There’s just a lot of negative things that go with that,” Haley said.

She did not veto the Legislature’s punishment of certain schools for gay and lesbian content they found offensive. When questioned about that, Haley stood by her earlier stance that:  “I don’t believe legislators should micromanage boards and commissions. To go in there and micromanage books that are being read and things like that, I just don’t believe that’s in our purview.”

“Having said that, the spent quite a bit of time talking through the compromise to this budget. We just didn’t want to interject ourselves into that,” she added.

Haley also avoided drastic cuts to the South Carolina Arts Commission in the coming budget.

“We don’t hit on people for the sake of hitting on people (in this budget)…the Arts Commission should be applauded for making the changes and reducing expenses that were not necessary,” she said.

Thursday’s weather

It will be hot in South Carolina on Thursday with highs in the lower to mid 90s, there will also be some scattered showers and thunderstorms.

Overnight, scattered showers and thunderstorms will remain possible, especially in the Midlands and Lowcountry, lows from the mid 60s to the lower 70s.


Angry state senators take issue with handling of College of Charleston bill (AUDIO)

After President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, resigned his post Wednesday afternoon to avoid becoming lieutenant governor, he angrily called on Gov. Nikki Haley to ask that Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell stay in the post for the rest of the year.

McConnell becomes College of Charleston president on July 1. He had planned to step down this week while lawmakers debated the expansion of that college —  in a bill that has been pushed to the top of the calendar in the last days of the legislative session.

Courson blocked the bill because he says it is too big to be pushed through with such little debate as the session winds down.

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, agreed with Courson and even took it a step further. During a nearly 20-minute floor speech, Peeler made it clear he is angry and distrustful of the Senate’s last-minute shuffle.

He took the podium (a rare occasion) and blasted the Lt. Governor:

AUDIO: Peeler challenges ethics, maneuvering around College of Charleston bill (16:00)