October 25, 2014

Emma’s Law goes into effect

Steven Andereck of the ignition interlock manufacturing company SmartStart shows how the breathalyzer works in a 2013 demonstration

Steven Andereck of the ignition interlock manufacturing company SmartStart shows how the breathalyzer works in a 2013 demonstration

Tougher DUI restrictions passed by lawmakers earlier this year, known as “Emma’s Law,” go into effect Wednesday.

The law is aimed at curbing drunken driving by using what’s known as an “ignition interlock device” on cars belonging to individuals who were convicted of driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of more than .15 percent.

South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services spokesman Peter O’Boyle said the offender must blow into the device for his or her car to start. He said a convicted driver will have to use it for at least six months.

“We have spent months training and preparing for Emma’s Law and had to rebuild our computer systems to implement it,” SCDPPPS Director Kela Thomas said in a statement. “But it will be worth it to enhance the safety of our state’s streets and highways.”

The law is named after 6-year-old Emma Longstreet, a Lexington girl who was killed after a repeat drunk driving offender hit her family’s car on New Year’s Day 2012. Emma’s parents David and Karen Longstreet worked to get the bill passed in the state legislature. Governor Nikki Haley signed the measure into law in April.

Another section of the new law requires any person convicted of DUI at least twice to install the device if they ever want to drive legally again. Previously, a driver could “wait out” their suspension period.

All users of ignition interlocks will now have to upgrade the devices to include cameras. DPPPS officials said this requirement is meant to prevent others from blowing into the breathalyzer on the driver’s behalf to get a car started.

There are similar laws in 35 other states.

Bill Dubensky contributed to this report

Two GOP leaders drop out of SC House Speaker’s race, clearing way for Lucas

Acting House Speaker Jay Lucas (Image: SCETV)

Acting House Speaker Jay Lucas (Image: SCETV)

It appears acting SC House Speaker Jay Lucas will soon have the word “acting” dropped from his title.

Two Republicans who had been vying for the Speaker position sent a letter to their colleagues on Tuesday that announced they were dropping out of the race. State Reps. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, and Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, are both former GOP House Majority Leaders who had been seeking the chamber’s most powerful position.

The move almost certainly clears the way for Lucas, a Hartsville Republican believed to have bipartisan support, to be elected Speaker when legislators return for a special session after Election Day.

“After reading articles that confirm a commitment to change by each of the candidates for Speaker, it is time to move forward,” Bingham and Merrill wrote. “For that reason, we are withdrawing our names from con-sideration and announcing our support for Representative Jay Lucas.”

The letter noted that Lucas has committed to seeking rule changes that will term limit the position of Speaker, allow each committee to hire its own staff (rather than each being hired by the Speaker’s Office), and establishing a committee to review all House rules and make additional reform recommendations.

Lucas has been serving as acting speaker since House Speaker Bobby Harrell suspended himself from office earlier this month. Harrell’s move came a day after a Richland County grand jury indicted him on nine counts related to misusing campaign funds and misleading state ethics officials. Harrell has repeatedly insisted he did not intentionally violate the law.

Harrell was first elected speaker in 2005. Lucas had been serving as the chamber’s second-in-command since 2011.

Harrell bond hearing scheduled for Monday

House Speaker Bobby Harrell (File)

House Speaker Bobby Harrell (File)

Indicted SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, will have a bond hearing on Monday morning.

Harrell was suspended as House Speaker after a Richland County grand jury indicted him on nine counts related to misusing campaign funds and hiding it from state ethics officials.

The bond hearing is scheduled for 9:00 on September 29 at the Richland County Judicial Center. Circuit Judge John Hayes, III will preside over the hearing, according to a release from the 1st Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

Harrell was indicted after 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe took over grand jury proceedings from state Attorney General Alan Wilson following months of legal proceedings. The suspended Speaker has repeatedly insisted he did not knowingly violate state ethics laws.

State Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, has taken over Harrell’s duties as Acting Speaker since September 11.

Sabb takes advantage of increased turnout, wins Pee Dee Senate race

State Rep. Ronnie Sabb, D-Kingstree

State Rep. Ronnie Sabb, D-Kingstree

Voters in the Pee Dee on Tuesday decided to promote State Rep. Ronnie Sabb, D-Greeleyville, sending the second-term South Carolina House member to the state Senate.

Sabb took 58.7 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff election for Senate District 32, eclipsing Kingstree attorney Sam Floyd’s 41.3 percent.

District 32 centers around Williamsburg County, but also includes western Georgetown County and slivers of Florence, Berkeley, and Horry counties.

The seat was held for 22 years by State Sen. Yancey McGill before McGill resigned to become lieutenant governor earlier this summer. Since no Republicans have entered the race, the winner of the Democratic primary will almost certainly take the seat in November.

Sam Floyd (Image: samfloydforsenate32.com)

Sam Floyd (Image: samfloydforsenate32.com)

It was a come-from-behind victory for Sabb. The Williamsurg County attorney had more than 1,100 fewer votes than Floyd in the initial September 2 Democratic primary. But he took advantage of higher turnout from two weeks ago, going from 3,485 total votes in the primary to 9,639 in Tuesday’s runoff. Floyd’s total votes also increased, but not nearly as much.

Sabb, a former assistant solicitor and general counsel at Santee Cooper power utility, has served in the House for 4 years.

His victory means another special election is now required for Sabb’s seat in the House. Elections officials say that special election will likely occur in early 2015.

Senators say DSS should move more quickly on hiring new caseworkers


Sen. Joel Lourie said DSS "should be embarrassed" about high turnover rates and large caseloads month after the agency came under fire for child deaths (Image: SCETV)

Sen. Joel Lourie said DSS “should be embarrassed” about high turnover rates and large caseloads that still exist months after the agency came under fire for child deaths (Image: SCETV)

State senators are urging South Carolina’s child welfare agency to do what it can to hire more caseworkers as soon as possible, saying it will take too long to wait until a budget increase is approved next year.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) said it needs 202 new employees and $10 million to ease its workers’ caseloads. But members of the Senate committee who are investigating DSS said during a Tuesday hearing that it could be a year before DSS gets that money. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, noted lawmakers would not approve a new budget until July 2015, and it would take months longer for the agency to advertise, hire, and train new positions.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said he was frustrated that, despite the public outcry and calls for change, DSS still only has 620 child welfare caseworkers at its county offices. That is a tiny net increase from 615 in May, despite the agency receiving enough additional funds to hire 50 more caseworkers this past year.

Lourie blamed a high employee turnover rate and said DSS “should be embarrassed” about the still-large caseloads for its child welfare employees. He insisted that agency officials are not treating the situation as urgently as they should. “Why wouldn’t you go to Gov. Haley and have her do an executive plan of action and go request that money… right now?” he said during the hearing. “And start talking about paying caseworkers more right now?” He said the agency could go to the state Budget & Control Board next month for permission to spend money on additional hires.

[Read more...]