July 31, 2015

SC Atty Gen.’s Office: State law could allow confidential execution drugs

All executions in South Carolina are performed at the Broad River Correctional Institution (Image: SCDC)

All executions in South Carolina are performed at the Broad River Correctional Institution (Image: SCDC)

South Carolina’s top legal office is arguing that state law already allows pharmaceutical companies to confidentially provide execution drugs. If true, that could clear a path for South Carolina to obtain the drugs it says it lacks to perform lethal injections.

The state Department of Corrections has not executed a Death Row inmate since 2011. Agency director Bryan Stirling has said pharmaceutical companies — worried about public backlash — have stopped selling execution drugs like pentobarbital to states. The European Union has also barred any corporations headquartered there from selling any drugs to entities and governments that plan to use them in capital punishment. South Carolina law allows inmates to choose their execution method. Most select lethal injection.

Stirling has been pushing to change state law so that pharmacies mixing the drugs would be confidential — the same secrecy that state law already uses for personnel who are involved in the execution itself. A bill that would change South Carolina law to match Georgia’s confidentiality requirements failed to overcome opposition in the Senate this year.

But an opinion by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office released this week suggests such a legal change may not require Statehouse approval. Assistant Attorney General Brendan McDonald wrote that a broad interpretation of the state’s confidentiality laws may already cover the companies. “We believe the phrase ‘member of an execution team’ must be broadly construed to include an individual or company providing or participating in the preparation of chemical compounds intended for use by the Department of Corrections for ‘carrying out an order of execution by lethal injection.'”

The opinion is just meant to be advisory and is not legally binding. Stirling told the Associated Press he still plans to seek legislative approval first.

Death penalty opponents say such secrecy laws raise legal issues. Death Penalty Information Center director Rob Dunham has previously argued inmates would not know if the chemical compounds involved could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Sen. Pinckney’s family, friends announce new foundation on late senator’s birthday

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney (Image: SCETV/File)

State Sen. Clementa Pinckney (Image: SCETV/File)

The widow and friends of a former state legislator who was murdered last month said Thursday that they have launched a nonprofit to carry on his work across South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

The announcement was made Thursday, which would have been State Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s 42nd birthday. Pinckney was among nine people killed at a church he pastored in Charleston on June 17. Federal prosecutors have deemed the shooting a hate crime, saying the sole white gunman purposely targeted the historic, predominantly-black Emanuel AME Church. The suspected gunman Dylann Roof will be in federal court Friday to face the hate crime charges.

“While the shock has started to dissipate, we are still in a state of deep grief,” the senator’s widow Jennifer Pinckney said in an email. “But, we are answering God’s call to continue my husband’s work and that starts with establishing a charitable foundation in his honor.” Mrs. Pinckney is the foundation’s Chair.

Another founding member State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said The Honorable Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney Foundation will try to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged South Carolinians. He said that would include a focus on education and healthcare.

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South Carolina Military Base Task Force receives a status update

The South Carolina Military Base Task Force is breathing somewhat of a sigh of relief now that that they know how cuts to the Army will affect the state. The biggest impact the cuts will have in the Palmetto State will be at Ft. Jackson, which learned this month it will lose about 180 active-duty members.

 Members of the South Carolina Military Task Force meeting July 29, 2015. South Carolina Radio Network photo.

Members of the South Carolina Military Task Force meeting July 29, 2015. South Carolina Radio Network photo.

Task force chairman Bill Bethea said Wednesday it could have been a lot worse. “We were fearful that it might be in the several thousands. And so we’re very blessed that’s not the case.” He said that there will be most likely an equal number of civilian employees cut at the base as well.

He said that some of the state’s other top military installations are untouched by the cuts. “Marine Air Corp Station (Beaufort) for example is actually expanding. (Marine Recruiting Depot) Parris Island is running about the same.”

He said that they always have to be looking forward. “We’re totally dependent on what Congress decides to do in the next year’s budget.”

Bethea also said they will try again next legislative session to get a bill passed that eliminates the state income tax on retired military members pay. “We fell that, that does several things for the state and that’s why we were so strongly in favor of it. And why we’re going to be pushing next year to get it accomplished.”

He said by eliminating the state income tax on retired military members pay, the state would attract more armed forces retirees who currently take advantage of the tax break in other states.




Race to replace Horry County legislator headed to runoff

Russell Fry (Image: FryforHouse.com)

Russell Fry (Image: FryForHouse.com)

The election to replace a Surfside Beach legislator who resigned amid sex harassment allegations this spring is down to a runoff.

Relative newcomers Russell Fry and Tyler Servant each got the most votes among the four Republicans running to replace former State Rep. Nelson Hardwick in SC House District 106. The State Election Commission said Fry received 45 percent of the votes to Servant’s 33 percent. They will face off again on August 11.

“What a stunning upset,” Fry posted to his Facebook page. “This was possible because of you, your hard work, and your dedication… Over the next two weeks, we will offer a clear difference in candidates, ideas, and solutions.”

Since there is no Democrat running, the winner in two weeks will almost certainly win the seat. District 106 covers the neighborhoods southwest of Myrtle Beach, including South Strand, Surfside Beach and Garden City.
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SC agencies say law tied hands in preventing KKK/New Black Panther rallies on same day

Jonathon Brooks of Mooresboro, NC, waves his personal banner in the midst of the Black Educators/New Black Panthers event on July 18 (File)

Jonathon Brooks of Mooresboro, NC, waves his personal banner in the midst of the Black Educators/New Black Panthers event on July 18 (File)

South Carolina legislators on Tuesday demanded to know why state officials allowed two opposing hate groups to hold simultaneous rallies at the Statehouse two weeks ago.

A joint legislative committee which oversees the Statehouse grounds asked the state’s General Services Division director why the Ku Klux Klan and a New Black Panther-affiliated group Black Educators for Justice were both allowed to protest the Confederate battle flag on July 18. Law enforcement officials said the rallies were marred by fistfights, vandalism, and five arrests as police struggled to maintain control.

The Division of General Services oversees the maintenance of the Statehouse complex and handles any public requests to use the grounds. Agency staff said the Black Educators request went from 12-4 pm, while the original KKK rally was scheduled from 3-5 pm. Not included in those requests were hundreds of others who came to counter-protest or to watch. Police shut down the KKK rally after an hour once things spiraled out of control.

“The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan hate black people. The Black Panthers… hate white people,” State Sen. John Courson, R-Richland. “It would seem to me that somebody would have realized they weren’t coming to eat cookies or set lemonade.”

But general services director Nolan Wiggins said the agency had been worried about potential free speech violations, since there is nothing in state regulations that would prohibit either group from getting permission. “It’s very difficult to curtail people’s First Amendment rights when they’re used in a public forum such as the Statehouse,” he told the committee.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said his department did not want the rallies, but did not know how to stop them without causing potential lawsuits. “We didn’t know of any legal way that we could keep these folks from showing up,” he said. Department of Public Safety director Leroy Smith said both groups had “misled” his staff about what would occur at the protests.

Wiggins also told legislators that nothing in state law would have prevented either group from showing up without state preclearance. But he said his office and its parent agency the Department of Administration have changed how requests are handled. Wiggins said SLED and Statehouse security will be notified before any future requests to use the grounds are granted.

However, Keel and Smith admitted SLED and DPS had been notified before the July 18 rallies. And Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott — whose deputies also worked security that afternoon — said law enforcement was unprepared for things to get out of control. Lott called violence at the rallies the “worst situation I have ever seen.”

“My biggest question would be why would the state allow two hate groups… permission to come to the Statehouse grounds on the same day?” he rhetorically asked during Tuesday’s hearing. “We all knew what was going to happen. And it did happen.”

State Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Columbia, said the House could consider legislation that would restrict known hate groups from using the grounds. That sparked a well-known Midlands progressive activist Brett Bursey to warn lawmakers against overreach. Bursey, the South Carolina Progressive Network director, was not scheduled to speak but told the committee that he believes the current rules had worked well until this particular incident.

The rallies occurred roughly two weeks after legislators voted to remove the battle flag from its position next to the Confederate Soldiers Monument.