September 17, 2014

New SC law creates crime for library trespassing

Richland County Library in downtown Columbia

Richland County Library in downtown Columbia

South Carolina libraries will now have new methods to keep those they say are disruptive or a nuisance from entering the grounds.

State lawmakers last week overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for a person to return to a library after being told in writing to stay away by library employees.

The state House of Representatives narrowly overrode the governor’s veto in a 75-36 vote last week (72 votes were needed under the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement). The House came back for a special one-day session, as they did not get the governor’s veto until after their regular session ended in June. Haley had opposed the measure, saying it could violate due process rights.

“(I)t grants library employees wide authority to deprive citizens of their ability to use public libraries for an indefinite amount of time based on mere allegations of misconduct,” the governor’s veto message stated. She instead encouraged county governments to pass individual laws on the local level.

[Read more...]

Former Myrtle Beach legislator pleads not guilty to laundering charge

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

A former state legislator has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds.

Former State Rep. Thad Viers entered the plea during his arraignment in federal court Thursday. Prosecutors say the Myrtle Beach Republican helped a paving contractor who had defaulted on a $6 million road project.

An indictment unsealed earlier this month asserts that Viers helped the man hide his ownership in a marina and an investment firm when a bonding company sought to collect the debt. That contractor Marlon Weaver pleaded guilty to money laundering in 2013.

Viers was indicted on 12 counts of engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds, one count of money laundering, and another count of lying to an IRS agent. Prosecutors say Weaver backdated documents to make it appear he had transferred his interest in the marina and side business.

The indictment states Viers helped Weaver hide his financial assets by withdrawing $524,000 from his law firm’s trust account between February and October 2011. The indictment states Viers knew the money came from Weaver’s unlawful activities. Viers was also accused of working with a third man to help hide Weaver’s assets from September 2009 to October 2011.

According to the Associated Press, Viers’ attorney Pete Strom maintained that his client did not realize he was breaking the law. Strom told reporters outside the Florence courtroom Thursday that South Carolina’s two law schools do not properly teach law students about complex financial matters they could encounter.

Viers served in the state House of Representatives from 2003 until 2012. He resigned to face harassment charges and eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment in January. He was sentenced to 60 days in prison (to be served on weekends) and a year of probation. Most of these new charges allegedly occurred while Viers was still in the House, although prosecutors say the charge of lying to an IRS agent stems from a March conversation.

New House committee formed to tackle domestic violence

SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell announced Wednesday he has created a special ad hoc committee that will be tasked with finding ways to end South Carolina’s status as the nation’s highest rate for women murdered by men.

The Special Criminal Domestic Violence Ad Hoc Committee had its first organizational meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Harrell named the ad hoc domestic violence committee after the Charleston Post & Courier ran a series of articles detailing serious legal and cultural problems that cause the rate of women killed by men in South Carolina to be nearly double the national rate.

The articles noted that 14 pieces of legislation have been proposed in the Statehouse concerning domestic violence in the last two years. But only one of those measures passed– dealing with custody of pets that may be caught up in the situation.

Committee chair State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said the panel will hear from experts, stakeholders, and the public to see if criminal laws could be toughened or the law enforcement and legal system improved to help reduce the violence. Erickson said she hoped the committee would be able to recommend comprehensive reform, not piecemeal changes. [Read more...]

SC House returns for one-day session

SC House of Representatives (FILE)

SC House of Representatives (FILE)

The South Carolina House of Representatives will return to Columbia for one afternoon Wednesday as they consider whether or not to override two of Gov. Nikki Haley’s vetoes.

Haley issued the vetoes just before the regular session ended in June for a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for repeated disruptors to enter a library and local legislation that raises the property tax cap on residents of Murrells Inlet and Surfside Beach to pay for fire control. While the Senate easily overrode both vetoes, the House never took them up before leaving for the year.

It will take a two-thirds majority to override the governor.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell decided to call the chamber in for the one-day session after saying a consensus was reached at a legislative retreat a few weeks ago.

Legislators are also holding a few study committee meetings Wednesday on expungement and school safety.

House members each receive $176 to cover meals and lodging for the day, plus mileage reimbursement.

College of Charleston clears first hurdle in bid to offer doctorate degrees


Interim Provost Brian McGee (Image: C-of-C)

Interim Provost Brian McGee (Image: C-of-C)

The College of Charleston has gotten the first level of approval it needs to become a research university that offers doctorate degrees.

A state Commission on Higher Education academic affairs panel on Tuesday agreed with C-of-C’s request to change its mission statement — a move that would eventually allow the school to become only the fourth public institution in South Carolina to offer doctorates.

The Associated Press covered the meeting and first reported the news Tuesday.

State law does not allow colleges to offer the degrees unless it is designated a “research university.” Currently only the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) have that designation.

“This isn’t a decision that’s being made about tomorrow or even a year from now,” Interim Provost Brian McGee told South Carolina Radio Network. “But it’s about future generations and how, in the coming decades, we’re going to create the kind of economy that we aspire to for this city and this region.”

Even though MUSC is also located in Charleston, McGee said the Lowcountry currently lacks a college that can give advanced degrees in industrial and high-tech fields.

“Having local talent produced in local universities has to be a part of the mix,” he said.

But he added College of Charleston is still years away from accepting doctoral students. Another vote of approval is needed at the full Commission on Higher Education meeting in October before the school can even present the plan to its own faculty and trustees for approval.

The College of Charleston sits in a unique position among the state’s 10 comprehensive four-year non-research colleges in that it houses a research program known as the “University of Charleston, South Carolina.” This graduate program is technically separate from the historically liberal arts college, although it is overseen by C-of-C officials.

Legislators representing the Charleston area tried to press their colleagues to change the law this past year to expand the school’s research capability. The bill cleared the House, but died in the Senate after two powerful lawmakers worried the measure needed more study. The bill was proposed as an alternative after the same Charleston legislators considered merging C-of-C and MUSC this spring.