Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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March 24

The Index-Journal on South Carolina open-carry laws for concealed weapons permit holders:

Suddenly, or so it seems, South Carolina lawmakers want to make our state seem like it’s on the cutting edge and progressive, in step with the nation as a whole.

How’s that?

By letting concealed weapons permit holders carry openly in public. Granted, lawmakers are not tossing aside all gun-related laws. Open carry does not grant a permit holder the right to whip out a holstered gun and wave it around any more than he or she would be within his rights to pull said weapon from its concealed holster. South Carolina bars and restaurants that serve alcohol wouldn’t be old West saloons. We hope.

We remain unconvinced this change is needed while yet supporting the Second Amendment and fully favoring that people who want to carry a weapon on their person do so by taking and passing a concealed weapons permit class. We should be and are grateful that this measure is at least limited to permit holders and not open to anyone who owns a gun. But that’s not much consolation.

Generally speaking, CWP holders are law-abiding residents who have a need or perceived need to have a sidearm for personal protection. In truth, they’re the ones store owners should be least worried about. Yet, many store owners post signs reading “No concealed weapons allowed,” as if that will turn a would-be armed robber away.

But open carry can be a bit — pardon the pun here — disarming out in public. Will it stop with a sidearm? Probably not. Imagine the crowd of big box store shoppers going up and down the aisles with AR-15s slung across their shoulders. Instead of kids whining about the toy or candy they want, they might cry and cling to mommy and daddy in fear. And let’s not think about what might happen as we near the holiday shopping season and only one of those sales items remains on the shelf.

If South Carolina wants to show how progressive it really is, it will do more to remove some of its stigmas that make it look like it’s still caught up in the civil war, it might consider hate-crime legislation. Maybe if South Carolina could get to the point where the fear many of its residents have of being pulled over for driving while Black, it could also get to the point where a legally armed Black man or woman would not fear being shot while Black.

Instead of openly carrying weapons, let’s strive to openly carry our sense of decency, respect for others, the shedding of our racist past that yet flies in the faces of visitors and residents alike. It’s called a battle flag, and the racism it represents is concealed in the phrase “heritage, not hate.”

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com

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March 23

The Post and Courier on tightening South Carolina unemployment rules:

As Hanna Raskin reported last week in our Food section, Charleston restaurant owners are “having a devil of a time” finding staff to meet the increasing demand for their services.

The staffing problem is not just local and not just confined to restaurant work. In South Carolina, with an unemployed population of 126,000, there are 87,000 jobs going begging on the Department of Employment and Workforce website. Nationwide, there are 10 million unemployed and 6.9 million unfilled jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The inability of employers to fill jobs is among the bottlenecks that may be slowing down the economic recovery from COVID-19 and forcing up prices.

Part of the problem is a mismatch between the education and skills needed and those available in the unemployed pool. But part of the problem also could be the size of unemployment benefits guaranteed by the federal response to the pandemic.

Initially, the federal government supplemented state unemployment benefits by $600 a week. Arguments that the size of the benefit might become an obstacle to economic recovery persuaded Congress to reduce the supplement to $300 a week. The recent $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill extended this help through Sept. 6.

When the maximum S.C. unemployment benefit of $326 a week is added, the result is $626 a week, which is in the range of estimates for the median income in the state. Many recipients would not have survived the crisis financially without this support; many have gone back to work as jobs opened up.

But Dan Ellzey, executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, said a “disturbing” aspect of the unemployment figures is the low number of job searches being conducted by many people receiving benefits. As a result, he will soon reinstate a rule — suspended a year ago at the start of the pandemic — that unemployed people must verifiably report that they regularly look for work to continue eligibility for unemployment insurance. That is a good idea.

In a separate action, Mr. Ellzey’s department is commendably participating in a federal program to discourage rampant unemployment insurance fraud running into the tens of billions of dollars nationally in the past year. Fraudsters in the United States and abroad steal personal information and file fraudulent claims that many state employment agencies have been ill-equipped to detect.

The U.S. Labor Department has contracted with ID.me to verify unemployment benefit claims. South Carolina also has signed up with the company to vet all future claims, but the state employment agency already has been proactive in stopping fraudulent claims, including an attempt in February to create nearly 20,000 bogus accounts. Thankfully, there was no monetary loss in that case.

Investigations by bodies ranging from the U.S. Labor Department’s inspector general to the California state unemployment agency put the losses to fraud somewhere between $50 billion and $200 billion, which suggests as much as 30% of the money the federal government has paid out for unemployment insurance has been stolen through identity theft and other crimes. It is time to stop this outrageous abuse.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/

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March 22:

The Times and Democrat on South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act:

The First Amendment assures there will be no prohibition on press freedom, but it does not ensure that government must cooperate in any way with a free press. That is where laws such as South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act are essential for press and public to have access to information.

Observed this past week around the nation, Sunshine Week draws attention to the principle of openness that is the backbone of our governmental system. Now begins another 51 weeks until we reach the observance again – a year during which every day will be important for a public that must have knowledge of its government’s workings to be capable of governing itself.

In approving South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act in 1978, the General Assembly stated: “It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that citizens shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in the formulation of public policy.”’

But there are real-life problems:

— A meeting of a council is held without giving notice to the public that elected its members.

— A request for information about taxpayer-financed salaries of public officials in a school district is rejected, with officials telling the media and a group of citizens they’ll have to go to court to get such information.

— An incident report about an auto accident involving a police vehicle is not made available until reporters get wind of the incident and make a formal request. It takes weeks for the report to be made public.

— A public body votes to enter closed session, citing only “personnel matters” as the reason. Officials emerge two hours later to announce “agreement” on a course of action.

— A school board discusses a document that is before the trustees meeting in public session. Reporters and all in attendance are refused a copy of the document.

Hypothetical examples? Only in that names, places, agencies, media and citizens are not included. Ignoring or giving short shrift to the principles of open government is not infrequent — in The T&D Region, around the state and throughout our country.

In South Carolina, we have a better-than-average Freedom of Information Act, a law designed to ensure that government operates in the open. Lawmakers made key improvements in 2017:

— Criminal penalties for FOIA violations, which have never been imposed, were removed. Violators are now subject to awards for damages and attorney fees.

— The waiting period for response to a request for access to public records is reduced from 15 days to 10. If the records at issue are older than two years, an agency has 20 days to respond to an FOIA request. Before the change, no time limit existed for when documents had to be provided.

— Agencies are required to post fees for searching and copying documents. That fee schedule replaces the “reasonable cost” provision that has come to mean anything from an agency billing a person thousands of dollars for research to amounts far above market rates for making copies of documents. The bill requires agencies’ fees not to exceed the prorated hourly salary of the lowest-paid agency employee. Copying fees would have to be at the commercial rate and cannot be charged if documents are transmitted by electronic means.

— If a public record exists digitally, a person has the right to request and receive it via electronic transmission.

Not to be lost during Sunshine Week and every week is the importance of the FOIA, which is not a law for journalists only. It provides government access for every citizen, including the many having never sought a public record or attended a public meeting. The law is there to ensure your right to know.

Online: https://thetandd.com