April 17, 2014

SC Big Story: What’s included in House’s $24.5 billion spending plan?

State Rep. Bill Sandifer speaks during floor debate Tuesday (Image: SCETV)

State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, speaks during floor debate Tuesday (Image: SCETV)

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government

The South Carolina House of Representatives gave its early approval Tuesday of a $24.5 billion spending plan (including $7 billion in General Fund tax revenue) for the next fiscal year. The 115-2 vote followed a more than 12-hour session in which well over 100 amendments were proposed, accepted or rejected.

The House will send the budget to the Senate after another procedural vote Wednesday morning.

The sole “no” votes were State Reps. Ralph Norman, R-Tega Cay, and Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg.

Here’s a brief roundup of what’s included:

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McConnell calls NAACP attacks “reckless rhetoric”

Glenn McConnell

Glenn McConnell

Flanked by a group of students, alumni and other supporters, the NAACP held a news conference Monday to voice their disapproval of Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell’s consideration for the presidency of the College of Charleston. Speaking on the campus grounds, Charleston NAACP Vice President Rev. Nelson Rivers III said McConnell’s advocacy for Confederate commemoration does not represent the progressive mindset the College of Charleston needs.

“You cannot hire someone who diminishes the pain of my ancestors and elevates to honor those who afflicted the pain and expect me to accept that,” Rivers said.”

McConnell is one of three finalists for the post. McConnell once owned a Confederate memorabilia shop and has dressed in Confederate uniforms, during Civil War re-enactment presentations.

Rivers said the board needs to name a progressive leader that understands the need for diversity.

“We urge the board to seriously consider whether they want a president who has created animosity, division, and protests in our state. Do they want to choose that man?”

The NAACP said what McConnell calls heritage is offensive to them.

A College of Charleston alum, McConnell answered his critics saying re-enactments are about history: ”I would first state that to my knowledge I have never diminished the pain of those who suffered in slavery. What I have taken a position on is that you are on a slippery slope when you open a quarrel with your past.”

McConnell, who earlier decided not to run for a full term as Lt. Governor, stated that those attacking him are being irresponsible.

“The things that are being spun that I’m trying to glorify slavery, that is so preposterous and such a twist of the truth that it’s just reckless rhetoric,” he retorted.

In another interview with Charleston television station WCSC-TV, McConnell defended his record on diversity. “I’ve helped increase the number of black judges across South Carolina, I was one of the key legislators who got funding for private black colleges out of the lottery funds.”

The other two finalists for the post are Dr. Dennis J. Encarnation, retired international business consultant and faculty member at Harvard University, and Dr. Martha D. Saunders, Provost and Professor at the University of West Florida.

Encarnation is expected to be on the College of Charleston campus Wednesday, McConnell is scheduled to be interviewed Thursday; Saunders will be on campus Friday.


Third victim of Lander assault sues school

A third victim of a sexual assault that happened at Lander University’s student housing in March 2012 has filed a lawsuit against the public college in Greenwood, claiming negligence by a resident adviser on duty that night.

The other two victims have already filed a similar suit over the assaults that happened at the Bearcat Village dormitories. Two former football players at Presbyterian College, Cameron Jones and Bobby Henderson, pleaded guilty last year to charges of criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping in the case. Prosecutors said the two men forced their way into the victims’ dorm at gunpoint and raped them.

Jones received a sentence of 23 years in prison.  Henderson got 18 years.

According to the lawsuits, a resident assistant (RA) hired by Lander University saw Jones and Henderson standing outside the entrance to Bearcat Village. The suit claimed the RA used his key card to allow the two non-students inside.

The suits allege Lander University failed to “provide protection to the students” and to “property of Lander University.”  It also says the school failed to enforce its safety regulations and failed to ensure all outside doors to Bearcat Village were locked at all times. It also claims the school knew the RA had been reckless with his responsibility previously.

While Lander’s response has not yet been filed for this most recent suit, the school denied the allegations when the first two victims filed suit.

SC Big Story: How less than .00001 percent of budget got 80 percent of the debate

A roundup of what’s making news in South Carolina state government

Several social conservative legislators were unhappy that students were required to read "Fun Home" last year

Several social conservative legislators were unhappy that students were required to read “Fun Home” last year

The South Carolina House of Representatives on Monday took the first step on deciding how $7 billion of General Fund revenue would be spent, part of a proposed $24 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.

It was a relatively fluid process for two hours as entire agency budgets worth hundreds of millions of dollars were unanimously approved with little debate — the product of nearly two months of behind-the-scenes work by both Republicans and Democratic leadership.

Then came the budget for two small public colleges. And that’s when the acrimony and nearly an hour of debate began.

That’s when the House Republicans leadership supported an effort by some social conservative lawmakers to dock money from the schools for requiring their incoming freshmen to read LGBT-themed literature. College of Charleston had required freshmen to read “Fun Home,” a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel about her life growing up as a lesbian with an abusive closeted homosexual father. University of South Carolina-Upstate had required students to read “Out Loud,” a nonfiction book about South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio station.

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Senator defends SC State shortfall

Scott in committee

Sen. Scott argues the SC State Board does not need to appear at Statehouse meetings.

State Senator John Scott, a South Carolina State University alumni, defends his alma mater’s need for extra money from the Legislature.

School President Thomas Elzey appeared before a state financial board requesting $13.6 million to cover a its budget shortfall.

Senator Scott said times are harder for historically black universities in general.

“Part of this problem is the economy. The school lost about a thousand students; so did all of the other HBCUs across the state. Also, the federal government changed the requirements for some of the federal programs and eliminated the parent program to be able to borrow money to go to school,” Scott told South Carolina Radio Network.

Scott said smaller public colleges are being overlooked by larger corporate funders and it hurts students recruitment. He said is particularly difficult for traditionally black colleges.

“Institutions are trying to attract the best students. Those who have the greatest resources of scholarships and other things attract the better student,” Scott said.

An investigation into federal grant spending, leadership turnoversthe corruption of a previous trustee and six presidents or fill-ins in the past six years have not helped the university’s appeal with donors, either.

Now, the State Inspector General is looking into the school’s financial management while Edgefield Republican Sen. Shane Massey is calling for more hearings.

Scott does not agree with Massey on that or with Gov. Nikki Haley’s questioning the board’s support of their new president.

She told Elzey at last week’s Budget and Control Board meeting, “I am concerned for you about where your board and where your delegation is. Because if you don’t have the backing of them and the commitment of them and the sacrifice that they are willing to make for the school, it is hard for this board to go forward knowing that they are going to have your back.”

Scott, after hearing about that, retorted, “Whether its one person come up with him or 2,000 stand with him, he is a representative of that institution. That’s all it should take.”

Elzey, has been in the SC State job for about eight months, after serving as  executive vice president for finance, administration and operations at The Citadel. Prior to that, he was chief financial officer at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

“He’s the president. We support him as the president. What decisions he will make and what plans he will get done, we’ll have to wait and see what he sends us back. We can’t judge the man without having given him the opportunity to in fact show what he can or can’t do, ” Scott admonished.