July 30, 2014

Gov. Haley urges Atlantic Beach to end BikeFest, council refuses

2009 Atlantic Beach BikeFest (Image: Town of Atlantic Beach)

2009 Atlantic Beach BikeFest (Image: Town of Atlantic Beach)

Gov. Nikki Haley called on the town council of Atlantic Beach Tuesday to end the small community’s annual biker festival, saying crime stemming from the rally has grown out of control.

The Atlantic Beach BikeFest is one of the state’s largest events, drawing an estimated 350,000 people to the Grand Strand each Memorial Day weekend. The sheer number of visitors to the tiny town surrounded almost entirely by North Myrtle Beach causes most bikers to spend their time in neighboring cities.

But leaders in those other towns say they have long been concerned about the rally. Their complaints have often been guarded due to the underlying racial aspects of an event known informally as “Black Bike Week.”

The issue came to a head this May after eight shootings were reported, including one that killed three people, in neighboring communities along the Grand Strand the same weekend as the bike rally. At the time, Haley joined Myrtle Beach mayor John Rhodes and various other Grand Strand political and business leaders to call for the event’s end.

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Ruling on Virginia gay marriage ban has implications for SC

The case will almost certainly end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court (Courtesy: U.S. Courts)

The case will almost certainly end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court (Courtesy: U.S. Courts)

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, a decision which could have implications for South Carolina.

The three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s ban on homosexual marriage and refusal to recognize such marriages from other states violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable,” Judge Henry Floyd, a former South Carolina district judge, wrote in the court’s opinion. “However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”

The ruling has implications in South Carolina, which is also located in the Fourth Circuit and is covered by the ruling’s precedent. Any legal challenge to South Carolina’s ban would almost certainly also go through the Fourth Circuit upon appeal. All parties in the case agree the final decision on state bans of gay marriage will likely be up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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PEBA looks to its past to find new director

The South Carolina agency that manages public workers’ health and retirement benefits has appointed a familiar face to be its new leader.

The Public Employee Benefits Authority (PEBA) board voted 10-0 Thursday to name Peggy Boykin as its new director. Boykin had led South Carolina Retirement Systems, PEBA’s predecessor agency, under Gov. Mark Sanford. She was replaced when Gov. Nikki Haley assumed office in 2011.

PEBA was created by the state legislature as part of a 2012 pension reform law. It is responsible for managing the health insurance and retirement plans for over a half-million current and former state employees.

Boykin had been a board member since the agency’s inception. She is a certified public accountant who has been an employee at the College of Charleston.

She recused herself from the vote. Boykin will start her new job on Monday.

“Although we will miss her as a colleague on the Board, we know that she will be more valuable in this position,” PEBA Board chairman Art Bjontegard said in a statement.”PEBA is still a relatively new agency, but one that is important directly and indirectly to everyone in South Carolina, with a very significant economic impact on our state.”

DSS says it needs 200 more employees to meet child welfare demands

DSS deputy director of human services Jessica Hanak-Coulter listens to senators Wednesday (Image: ETV)

DSS deputy director of human services Jessica Hanak-Coulter listens to senators Wednesday (Image: ETV)

Officials at South Carolina’s troubled child services agency say they need an additional 200 employees to meet a new requirement that would ease the load of overworked investigators.

The state Department of Social Services has come under heavy criticism this year after a state Senate committee’s investigations into child deaths found severe problems at the agency, including missed warning signs before child abuse deaths, strained caseworkers sometimes responsible for over 100 children, and failure to follow state law regarding the frequency of child welfare checks. Former DSS director Lillian Koller eventually resigned in June after bipartisan pressure from senators on the committee.

Deputy director Jessica Hanak-Coulter was back before the Senate General Committee on Wednesday. She told senators the agency has now decided to set a limit of 24 child cases its employees can handle at a time. The National Child Welfare League recommends 12 families (which may include more than one child per family) per caseworker. Hanak-Coulter said the agency will need 202 new employees, including 109 case investigators plus administrators and support staff.

“If we could do the ideal, then it would be no more than 24 children per investigator for those in the initial investigation period,” she told senators.

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New poll: Haley lead shrinks with more candidates in race

Gov. Nikki Haley (file)

Gov. Nikki Haley (file)

A new poll released Tuesday shows incumbent Republican Gov. Nikki Haley still holds a double-digit lead over Democratic challenger State Sen. Vincent Sheheen in a head-to-head matchup with potential voters. But that lead drops to the poll’s margin of error once two additional “third party” candidates are included.

The Palmetto Politics Poll released Tuesday was commissioned by the Post & Courier and WCIV-TV out of Charleston, WACH-TV in Columbia, and WYFF-TV in Greenville. Researchers asked 1,000 potential voters who they would support if no other candidates other than Haley and Sheheen were in the race. About 53 percent supported the incumbent governor versus 40 percent for Sheheen.

But once the smaller campaigns of Libertarian Party nominee Steve French and independent candidate Tom Ervin are included in the question, Haley’s support drops to 46 percent among 650 likely voters. Sheheen trails by only four points at 42 percent (within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error), with Ervin collecting 3 percent and French 2 percent of the remainder. Among respondents, 6 percent were undecided.

File Photo

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, (File)

The poll was conducted by the Pennsylvania firm Susquehanna Polling and Research.

However, Susquehanna president director Jim Lee told the Post & Courier that several factors suggest Haley is still the favorite to win. He said the poll found South Carolina voters pegged the economy and health care as the state’s top issues, with education a close third. He said that would likely make it difficult for Sheheen to rally voters around a single issue.

The poll found Gov. Haley had a 48 percent approval rating, while 41 percent of respondents disapproved and another 11 percent were undecided.