October 20, 2014

Haley defends record as other candidates attack in first debate

Image: SCETV

Gov. Nikki Haley

As expected, much of the first debate in the 2014 South Carolina governor’s race consisted of incumbent Republican Gov. Nikki Haley defending her economic and ethics record while taking criticism on that same record from her four challengers.

Tuesday night featured the first of two debates hosted by the Charleston Post & Courier, WACH-TV in Columbia, WCIV-TV in Charleston, WLOS-TV in Asheville, and WPDE-TV in Myrtle Beach.

The roughly 50-minute debate’s satellite signal was interrupted twice due to particularly stormy weather in the Charleston area. However, viewers did get to see most of the event held at Charleston Southern University in North Charleston.

Gov. Haley touted the decrease in the unemployment rate and increase in Gross Domestic Product that has occurred under her watch. “Our focus will continue to be to put as many people to work as possible and to make sure it’s good, quality jobs that we’re bringing to South Carolina,” she said.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw

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Watchdogs: Weaknesses in South Carolina ethics law

SC State Capitol

Several government watchdogs told state House lawmakers this week that weaknesses in ethics law prevent the public from knowing about corruption that occurs there. The indictment of suspended House Speaker Bobby Harrell last month loomed over the ethics study committee proceedings.

Common Cause of South Carolina director John Crangle said Harrell had used his campaign account to pay for his plane and insurance office staff. “Campaign money is raised by the candidates who are asking for the money for the purpose of running their campaigns. It should not be used for any other purpose.” Crangle said. Crangle said the Harrell case shows that legislators should not police their own members saying the Speaker wields such power.

South Carolina Policy Council president Ashley Landess said the Speaker’s position is possibly the most powerful in state government due to his involvement in panels that pick judges.

Tega Cay Republican Rep. Ralph Norman said true ethics reform would not have been possible while Harrell was Speaker.

State’s hospitals prepared to handle Ebola

Image/CDC

Image/CDC

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is closely monitoring the developments concerning cases of Ebola abroad and in the US.

Department director Catherine Templeton told the state senate Medical Affairs Committee Thursday that no cases of Ebola have been identified in South Carolina at this time. “DEHEC has been coordinating with the CDC since this summer to ensure that we are prepared as a state to deal with the possibility of an outbreak.” Templeton said.

If a case of Ebola is reported in South Carolina every hospital in the state is ready to handle it.

Thornton Kirby of the South Carolina Hospital Association told the state senate Medical Affairs Committee Thursday that his organization has been in contact with every acute hospital in the state to make sure they were prepared. “We hope that we’re not going to have any cases of Ebola in South Carolina, but if we do the hospitals are prepared to handle them. We have heard back in the last couple of days from every one of the acute care hospitals in our state, we know they have following along.” Kirby said.

Kirby went before the state senate Medical Affairs Committee to reassure them that the state’s hospital are on top of the situation.

 

Haley’s chief of staff clashes with Democratic critic in Senate hearing (AUDIO)

A state Senate hearing into a recently-released audit of the Department of Social Services (DSS) on Friday was a mostly restrained affair — with one very notable exception.

That came when Gov. Nikki Haley’s chief-of-staff Ted Pitts briefly took questions from State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, — one of Haley’s staunchest critics on DSS.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland

The governor's chief of staff Ted Pitts

The governor’s chief of staff Ted Pitts

Pitts had been in attendance Friday while acting DSS director Amber Gillum outlined the agency’s new $6.4 million plan to eventually hire more than 200 new employees. The plan included a 10 percent raise for caseworkers and scores of new employees who could investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect.

That’s when Lourie began questioning if Gov. Haley would agree to the massive bump in spending after Gillum’s predecessor Lillian Koller spent three years insisting no new employees were needed. He asked Pitts to answer that question.

After Pitts was sworn in, Lourie asked if the governor would include the DSS plan as part of her proposed budget in January.

“Can you say, ‘yes,’ with certainty the governor will request 269 new positions?” Lourie asked.

“I will say ‘yes’ with certainty the plan the director just laid out will be funded in the (proposed) budget,” Pitts answered. “And we will look at the additional resources required by the agency. And we agree with you the most important issue facing the state now is to help get caseloads down.”

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Audit: DSS data not reliable for child abuse, deaths

DSS Acting Director Amber Gillum says her agency is working to address its problems (Image: SCETV)

DSS Acting Director Amber Gillum says her agency is working to address its problems (Image: SCETV)

A highly-anticipated audit of South Carolina’s child welfare services released on Friday found a lack of qualified caseworkers, inadequate protections for children, and a significant underreporting of the true number of child fatalities at the Department of Social Services.

State law requires that county coroners report violent, unexpected, and unexplained child fatalities to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). But auditors from the Legislative Audit Council found 152 children’s deaths from 2009 to 2013 that were not included in the SLED database. That included 39 children who died from gunshot wounds and 25 more whose cause of death could not be determined.

According to the audit, it appeared coroners did not report the deaths to SLED in 104 out of those 152 cases. The remaining 48 cases are believed to have been reported, but did not appear in the SLED database. When contacted, some coroners said SLED had investigated the deaths and the coroners did not report the data because they believed the agency would already have the information.

The total number also includes some gaps in its criteria, such as children killed in collisions while their parent or guardian was driving under the influence.

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