The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is likely about to change. It’s one of the state agencies slated for restructuring, under a proposal recently put forth by a handful of state lawmakers.
Richland County Senator John Courson, a Republican, is on the bi-partisan committee. He says the restructuring is part of an ongoing effort begun by Governor Carroll Campbell designed to give the governor more power.
Courson says, to start with, the bill would separate the huge agency into two parts, led by one cabinet officer.”We’re only one of four states which has a structure similar to this,” said Courson. “In every other state such agencies have be bifurcated.” Listen to Courson comments MP3 3:36
The proposal would allow the governor to appoint a cabinet position who would then appoint two deputies. One would lead the health section and the other, the environmental section.
Courson says the current structure is byzantine, outdated. “There are seven members of the DHEC board who are appointed by the governor. Those members are appointed by the governor with the advice of the General Assembly. But they’re not even full time. They’re doing it as citizens. The thinking is that we need to streamline the process and give the governor more direct control.”
Courson says the new structure, if it passes the General Assembly, would offer more accountability, and could offer the governor more control over nuclear dumping and other important matters. “South Carolina has literally become the nuclear dumping ground for the nation–not only low-level waste at the Barnwell facility, but also hazardous waste at the Pinewood facility. Also, we have allowed massive landfills to be constructed in the state, much greater than the citizens of the state need. I think that if the Governor were in control that those decisions would not have been made the way they were. ”
Courson says, even before the proposal, South Carolina government has something to be proud of. “South Carolina government is rated at the top by all the organizations that rate state governments. We have tremendous state employees. This is an on-going process. The governor, as top elected official, should have more power.”
Medical Affairs Committee Chair Harvey Peeler of Cherokee County says the planners face a formidable task because DHEC is a very large agency. “As chairman of the committee, I don’t want to influence the subcommittee at all. I want them to consider the pros and cons, give it due diligence, and we’ll take it up in January.”
Other agencies suggested for reorganization include the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs. Another bill would merge the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, and the Continuum of Care to form a new Department of Behavioral Health Services.