Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 23

The Index-Journal on the U.S. passing another grim COVID-19 milestone:

500,000-plus.

That’s where the United States’ COVID-19 death toll stands. It’s a staggering figure, and one that Lakelands counties have contributed to, albeit thankfully on a smaller scale.

As of this writing, Greenwood County’s death toll was 140, Abbeville’s was 28, Saluda was 37, Laurens tallied 135 and McCormick County had logged 16 deaths.

Who would have thought that our great nation with its untold resources would have reached the half-million mark? But we have, and it’s not over yet. Vaccines are getting in the arms of the people and there does appear to be an overall decline in the pandemic’s reach nationally; still, the numbers are mind-boggling.

As tragic as any death is, the pandemic has taken many people down death’s path in a most cruel way. All too often, people have taken ill and gone to a hospital, never again to be seen or touched by a spouse or loved one in person again.

Moreover, COVID-19 is not so selective. It knows no age boundaries. Sure, people of certain ages and who have certain preexisting conditions are likely more susceptible, but this is not a virus that claims the lives of those who — how to put this gently? — perhaps should know their years are limited and should, therefore, have their affairs in order.

Case after case after case has been a sad tale of people who wind up in the hospital and not only do they not come out alive, they also do not have their affairs in order. And it was too late to fix that once they entered the hospital and spent their last days on a ventilator. ...

Death and all it brings upon those left behind is a terrible tragedy at any time. But more tragic is when those left behind are left with little or no direction from their loved ones. Wills, powers of attorney, financial planning, access to bank accounts, avoiding probate court — these are things people can take care of well before their sudden demise, whether from COVID-19 or something else. But during the pandemic, this has become an increasingly necessary point to drive home.

We all like to think “it can’t happen to me,” but that’s denial or, at the very least, wrong thinking.

... (S)tart getting your affairs in order. It will be great if the pandemic comes and goes without affecting you and your family, but it will also be great to have taken care of that business for the more distant future.

It’s not morbid; in fact, getting your affairs in order truly is an act of love.

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com

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Feb. 22

The Times and Democrat on a South Carolina senator’s role in supporting small businesses during the pandemic:

South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott and Minnesota Democratic Sen. and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar may not be seen as allies on many issues, but they are putting emphasis on the major problems being faced by small businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During the recent National Entrepreneurship Week, the two reintroduced the bipartisan Enhancing Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century Act. The act would require the secretary of commerce to work with partners at all relevant government agencies to conduct a comprehensive study into the underlying factors driving the current “startup slump.”

“There is a difference between being wealthy and creating wealth, and as a former small business owner, I was able to both earn a living and help others to reach their full potential,” Scott said. “As we emerge from the pandemic, our job in Congress will be to implement commonsense policies that will allow our nation’s entrepreneurs to rebuild our economy. My bipartisan Enhancing Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century Act is just one of the many tools we can enact to get the American economy back on track.”

The latest NFIB Small Business Optimism Index shows entrepreneurs have their doubts about the future. The index declined in January to 95.0, down 0.9 from December and three points below the 47-year average of 98.

Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months declined seven points to a net negative 23%, the lowest level since November 2013. The net percent of owners expecting better business conditions has fallen 55 points over the past four months.

“As Congress debates another stimulus package, small employers welcome any additional relief that will provide a powerful fiscal boost as their expectations for the future are uncertain,” National Federation of Independent Business Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said. “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dictate how small businesses operate, and owners are worried about future business conditions and sales.”

State-specific data isn’t available, but NFIB S.C. Director Ben Homeyer said, “These are frustrating and difficult times for small businesses and other employers, but owners are hopeful the worst of the pandemic is behind us and things will get back to normal sooner rather than later.”

The senators are out front in pushing for the sooner.

As Klobuchar states: “Entrepreneurship and innovation are key to our economic prosperity and are needed more than ever as we rebuild our economy and put the pandemic behind us.”

Online: https://thetandd.com

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Feb. 21

The Post and Courier on legislators' involvement in running South Carolina elections:

Heading into the 2020 general election, nine S.C. counties had a process in place to verify the voter signature on absentee ballots — each a little different; the other counties either had no standard process or else did nothing to verify signatures. Likewise, election officials in some counties contacted voters to give them the opportunity to fix problems that would have caused their absentee ballots to be rejected; others didn’t. And those were just the irregularities that were highlighted in lawsuits.

The problem wasn’t that one way was right and the others were wrong; it was that there was no uniformity — meaning votes that would have been counted in one county were being thrown out in another.

The bigger problem: This wasn’t unique to the 2020 election. It’s baked into our system, the inevitable result of a state law that allows 46 autonomous county election commissions to decide for themselves how to implement laws that spell out the what without always explaining the how. Although the State Election Commission is empowered to ensure local compliance with its policies, that only works when it has applicable policies, and the process for enforcement is not straightforward.

H.3444 aims to change that, by empowering the State Election Commission to “supervise and standardize the performance, conduct, and practices” of county election commissions, to ensure that votes are counted the same way in Greenville County as they’re counted in Charleston County and the same way in Charleston County as Aiken County.

It’s a long-overdue change.

It might make sense to allow every county election commission to interpret and enforce state election laws as it sees fit if only county council, sheriff, school board and other single-county elections were affected. But people in every county cast votes for president, governor and U.S. Senate. People in multiple counties vote in each race for U.S. House and solicitor and most legislative seats. Having different interpretations of what state law requires and allows — not to mention having vastly different degrees of competence among the commissions — makes absolutely no sense.

Of course, if it doesn’t make sense to let each county decide how votes are cast and counted, it also doesn’t make sense to let the legislators from each county hand-pick their county election commissioners. Or to make county councils pay for the election commission offices over which they have no control. What would make sense is to get rid of the politically appointed county election commissions altogether and let the State Election Commission hire state employees — paid for by the state — to staff the county election offices.

If lawmakers aren’t willing to go that far right now, they need to make that their next step in professionalizing and standardizing our elections — and make sure that next step comes soon.

What they don’t need to do is inject themselves into the workings of the State Election Commission, as House Speaker Jay Lucas’ bill also does. Under current law, the governor appoints the five members of the commission, but H.3444 would add four more commissioners, appointed by legislative leaders. That should be a non-starter.

The problem with this proposal isn’t — as Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee bizarrely complained (last) Tuesday — that the bill allows the governor to appoint as many as four commissioners from his party; he can do that under current law. The legislation approved by the committee actually increases minority-party representation on the commission, by requiring that the Legislature’s appointments be split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats — changing the current 4-1 Republican edge to a 6-3 edge.

The problem is that allowing legislators to appoint election commissioners violates a central tenet of our system of representative democracy: dividing power among three branches of government, so they can then check and balance each other. The job of the Legislature is to write the laws. The job of the executive branch of government — headed by the governor — is to execute those laws.

If the Legislature doesn’t like how the laws are being implemented, it has the power and duty to change the laws. It has no business changing the individuals who are carrying out those laws.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com