August 3, 2015

One of SC Senate’s most vocal Democrats says he won’t seek reelection

State Sen. Joel Lourie (File)

State Sen. Joel Lourie (File)

One of the most outspoken Democrats in the South Carolina legislature revealed this weekend he will not seek re-election in 2016.

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, announced his plans in an op-ed submitted to The State newspaper on Sunday. Lourie has represented the Senate’s northeast Columbia seat District 22 for 11 years. Prior to that, he served in the state House of Representatives for six years before that.

“I enjoy serving in the Senate and working for the betterment of our state,” Lourie wrote. “Every day is an adventure, and to be part of it is truly exhilarating. However, I never intended to stay in office for 25 or 30 years. I have great respect for those who do, but there are other things I would like to do in my life, both personally and professionally.”

Lourie was often a vocal thorn in the side of majority party Republicans during his 11 years in the Senate and was not afraid to directly call out GOP leaders or the governor. In his op-ed, he specifically named three bills he helped pass that barred daycares from driving 15-passenger vans, improved autism insurance coverage, and created tougher requirements for convicted DUI drivers. He was also the only Democrat on a Senate subcommittee that investigated and revealed serious problems at the state Department of Social Services. The committee’s work eventually led to previous DSS director Lillian Koller’s resignation and an overhaul of the agency which oversees child welfare in South Carolina.

He is the son of the late State Sen. Isadore Lourie, who represented the Midlands in the Statehouse for 27 years. The younger Lourie is an insurance broker in his private life.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve my community and look forward to my final year of service,” Lourie continued. “I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to the people of Richland and Kershaw counties for having the confidence and trust in me to be your voice of reason at the State House. I love my state, and I will always look for ways to give back and make it better.”



Winthrop tennis coach steps down due to immigration problems

Sergey Belov (Image: Winthrop Athletics)

Sergey Belov (Image: Winthrop Athletics)

The men’s tennis coach at Winthrop University has stepped down from his position after just one season due to “issues with his immigration status,” the school revealed Friday.

South Carolina Radio Network coverage partner WRHI reported the news Thursday.

Winthrop’s athletics department announced in a release Thursday that Sergey Belov had resigned earlier in the week despite a successful inaugural season. The school named volunteer assistant John Collins as interim head coach.

Belov is Russian, but had earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Winthrop. He led the Eagles to the 2015 Big South Conference championship and an appearance in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The release did not explain Belov’s immigration issue.

As a player and former team captain, Belov helped lead the Eagles to the 2010 Big South Conference title and a NCAA Tournament appearance. He was voted the 2011 Big South Conference Player of the Year.

Belov remained with the team as a student assistant coach in 2011-12 and spent the next two years as a graduate assistant for the Winthrop women’s team, helping direct it to the 2013 and 2014 Big South championships and back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament.

Collins served as a volunteer assistant in the men’s tennis program this past season after serving as the women’s tennis graduate assistant coach in 2013-14. He has also served as a volunteer assistant at Elon and as a student assistant at Tennessee.

Accused Charleston church shooter pleads ‘not guilty’ to federal charges

Dylan Roof appears via teleconference during an arraignment last month (File)

Dylan Roof appears via teleconference during an arraignment last month. Cameras were not allowed at Friday’s hearing (File)

The man accused of killing nine people in a mass shooting at a Charleston AME church last month pleaded “not guilty” to additional federal hate crimes charges Friday.

However, Dylann Roof’s attorney David Bruck said his client wants to plead guilty but is waiting to see if prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against him.

Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant entered the not guilty plea for all 33 counts during the hearing. Roof did not comment during the proceedings except to answer “yes” to Marchant’s routine procedural questions. Family members of the shooting victims also spoke briefly.

Roof was in federal court Friday to answer 33 new counts handed down by a grand jury last week. Those counts include hate crime charges and are in addition to the nine murder counts he already faces from Charleston County prosecutors. Federal charges were filed because South Carolina has no separate hate crimes law.

The Lexington native had posted several photos online of himself waving Confederate flags and burning U.S. flags. Prosecutors used those photos and other evidence to build the case that he killed nine people in the historic, predominantly-black Emanuel AME Church for racial reasons.

“The process has started and we’re most certainly going to monitor it,” Emanuel AME interim pastor Norvel Goff told reporters outside the courthouse. “This is a long journey. But, most certainly, we are committed to the task to make sure that justice is done.”

Roof will be back in court on August 20 for a pre-trial hearing in his case. If Roof does not change his plea, a trial likely would not begin until next year.

He has already been arraigned on nine murder charges and a weapons count.

Changes in rules could mean some South Carolina workers become eligible for overtime pay

Proposed changes to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act could mean more South Carolina workers would become eligible for overtime pay.

The changes would make more workers eligible by more than doubling the minimum salary that certain white-collar employees must earn to be exempt from overtime pay. All hourly workers are already eligible for overtime, no matter how high their pay.

The U.S. Department of Labor published the proposed change to the Fair Labor Standards Act this month. The act sets minimum wage and hour requirements that apply nationwide.

The current salary level threshold, which the Labor Department last updated in 2004, currently stands at $455 per week (or $23,660 per year). The new proposal would raise that to the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers. The amount would be about $970 per week (or $50,440 per year) in 2016 when the changes would likely take effect. The new regulation would also install a mechanism to automatically update the salary level on an annual basis either by using a fixed percentile of wages or the consumer price index.

Patrick Wright of the University of South Carolina Moore School Of Business told South Carolina Radio Network that the state’s laws mean many workers currently not eligible for overtime could be after the federal changes. “A number of people that they previously classified as being exempt from the FLSA will no longer be exempt. Which means if they work more than 40 hours a week they will have to be paid time and half overtime.”

Wright said there will two benefits from the changes for workers. ”One is going to that employees will get more money, but the other is going to be that they will get more time with their families. Now the answer is that it’s going to be and either.”

But opponents of the change argue employers will simply reduce new employees’ pay — or switch jobs from salary to hourly — in anticipation of the upcoming requirements. “Employers largely respond to new overtime requirements by cutting base pay—leaving total hours and earnings little changed,” James Sherk, a research economist for the Heritage Foundation, wrote in a recent analysis.

Under the federal law, all workers are eligible for overtime pay at 1.5 time their usual rate, for work that exceeds 40 hours in a week unless certain exemptions apply.

The public has until the end of July to comment, at which point the Labor Department will draft a final proposed rule that would take effect in 2016.


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.”