October 30, 2014

Audit finds agencies aren’t making sure SC Education Lottery money is spent properly

LotteryA new audit has found that South Carolina education officials are not following up on lottery money to make sure that it is being used correctly for college scholarships or elementary and middle-school education.

The report released Wednesday by the Legislative Audit Council (LAC) examined how revenues from the South Carolina Education Lottery are handled once they are transferred into the state budget. Auditors found a lack of oversight by the two agencies which handle most of the funds, raising the risk that the money could be spent improperly.

The report noted few controls are currently in place to ensure that students receiving more than $222 million in lottery-funded scholarship funds are actually eligible to receive them. Students receiving the Palmetto Fellows, LIFE, HOPE, and other lottery tuition assistance must be U.S. citizens or lawful residents and residents of South Carolina at the time of their graduation from high school. Those students must also maintain a 3.0 GPA while in college to keep their merit-based scholarships.

But the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) has no way to measure if the amounts of scholarships requested by the state’s institutions are accurate, beyond matching the college’s ledger with its student rosters, according to LAC director Perry Simpson.

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Haley on Sheheen “whore” gaffe: “I’m not going to waste my time on that”

Gov. Nikki Haley speaks outside the Statehouse on Wednesday

Gov. Nikki Haley speaks outside the Statehouse on Wednesday

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that she does not care about an apparent gaffe by her opponent Democratic State Sen. Vincent Sheheen last week, when Sheheen appeared to accidentally misspeak and call the governor a “whore.”

However, the governor did seem to take issue with Sheheen’s reaction after realizing his mistake, when he laughed along with the crowd before joking about the slipup being, “the truth.”

The Democratic nominee had criticized Haley for vetoing teacher pay raises during his appearance in Florence when he made the comment. “That is the worst kind of politics and we are gonna escort whore out the door,” he said, before quickly correcting himself. “We’re gonna escort her out the door.”

He then chuckled after the crowd noticed the slip, before eventually adding, “You gotta tell the truth. Think about it.”

Haley was asked about the comment during a press conference on Wednesday. “Whether it was a gaffe or not, I really don’t care. I’m a tough girl, I can handle that,” she responded. But she then added, “The laughing afterwards was a kick in the gut. The comment that ‘sometimes you gotta tell the truth,’ that was tough.”

“But, having said that, I’m not going to waste my time on that.”

During an interview with Charleston affiliate station WQSC on Monday, Sheheen maintained he did not use the word “whore,” but simply garbled the word “her.” However, the senator added that he apologized if anyone heard the offensive word. He called the controversy a “distraction” that takes away from important issues like DSS and teacher pay.

While the governor may have dismissed the remark in person, the South Carolina Republican Party has sent out fundraising emails highlighting Sheheen’s gaffe. The SCGOP email included an angry response from Ann Romney. “It’s so upsetting when you know someone can say something like that about a woman, and not have any kind of reaction. It’s so unacceptable.”

Anderson motorbike manufacturer agrees to $4.3 million settlement over recalls

An example of one of Baja's recalled minibikes (Image: CPSC)

An example of one of Baja’s recalled minibikes (Image: CPSC)

An Anderson-based company that sells minibikes and go-carts has agreed to a $4.3 million settlement with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The federal safety officials claimed Baja Inc. and its corporate affiliate, One World Technologies Inc., failed to immediately report safety problems with 11 models of minibikes and go-carts. The vehicles were sold for six years until their 2010 recall.

CPSC officials said Baja received at least four reports of fires from leaking gas caps, burn injuries and stuck throttles, but did not immediately report them as required by law. Federal law requires manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to report within 24 hours after obtaining information that reasonably leads them to conclude that a product contains a defect which could create an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.

As a condition for the settlement, Baja and One World do not admit the vehicles had a defect, or that the company failed to notify CPSC in a timely manner.

In fact, the company questioned if the fires could even blamed on faulty gas caps, maintaining the caps were either not available or too badly damaged to examine in three of the cases. In its court filing, the company said the fourth incident appeared to come from a damaged fuel line on a bike that had not been properly maintained, not the gas cap.

Baja also questioned the CPSC claims that stuck throttles were due to faulty design, insisting the throttles could have jammed by debris hanging up the throttle cable or in the carburetor; worn or broken cable, or other damage caused by poor maintenance or misuse of a vehicle.

Two Marion officers face jail time for repeatedly tasing mentally disabled woman

Two former Marion police officers are facing up to ten years in federal prison after they admitted using excessive force when they repeatedly tased a mentally disabled woman last year.

Former officers Eric Walters, 39, and Franklin Brown, 35, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of deprivation of rights after they used what investigators called “unreasonable” force while detaining the woman in April 2013. State Law Enforcement Division arrest warrants last year have not identified the woman or explained why she was being arrested.

According to details presented in court, the woman was tased by Walters even after she was handcuffed. Prosecutors said she fell to the ground and suffered a head injury during the incident. Court documents state Brown arrived at the scene shortly afterwards and continued to tase the woman even though she remained handcuffed and surrounded by law enforcement.

The two men admitted in court that there was no justification for their actions as the victim did not put them in any harm. Both men were relieved of their duties at the time of their arrest, according to the Marion Police Department.

“In this case, the officers abused (their) authority, and purposefully hurt the victim who at the time posed no threat to these officers or anyone else,” U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said in a statement. “No just society can tolerate this sort of abuse by those who wear the badge.”

The former officers will be sentenced at a later date. Both could spend up to ten years in prison and pay a $250,000, although they will likely receive a reduced sentencing as part of their deal to plead guilty.

Jeremy Urso contributed to this report

Coastal Carolina University prepares for growth

ccu studentsLeaders at Coastal Carolina University are developing strategic plans for controlled growth of the burgeoning campus in Conway, which could soon include a new graduate student campus in Myrtle Beach.

CCU Provost Ralph Byington said the campus is in an attractive area only about 20 minutes from Myrtle Beach and the student body that is pushing toward 10,000 (up from roughly 7,600 just 10 years ago). The plan over the next few years is to allow that population to plateau to around 12,500.

“There are physical limitations that you have for a campus to do what you do and do it well,” Byington said. “Fortunately we are taking a good look at making sure that we can provide the housing and support services for the student body and not try to push that limit.”

The main campus has 102 buildings situated on 620 acres.

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