We had another busy week in Columbia both on the floor and in committees as we head toward Easter and the closing weeks of session. Here are the highlights:
Competitive Insurance Act (S.569)
At A Glance
The Problem: Home insurance rates across South Carolina, but particularly on the coast, are skyrocketing because of weather damage to homes. We need to help lower insurance costs for all South Carolinians.
The Solution: The law would provide grants to people with homes valued less than $300,000 and help lower insurance premiums when they make improvements to their homes.
- The S.C. Safe Home program, created in 2007, offers about $1.5 million in grants for people with homes valued at $300,000 or less to weatherize their property and thereby lower their premiums.
- One provision of the bill is a doubling of the amount dedicated to a program that helps some homeowners lower the cost of their insurance.
- The amount available for grants would increase to more than $3 million under the new bill.
- The program is funded by a tax charged to insurance companies on premiums they collect. The bill does not raise the tax, rather, it would increase from 1 percent to 2 percent the amount of collections dedicated to the S.C. Safe Home program.
- The bill also would require the S.C. Department of Insurance to develop a hurricane model based on weather data specific to South Carolina. The current model is based on weather data specific to Florida, which is statistically more likely to be hit by such a storm.
- The bill received 3rd reading on April 16 and sent to the House.
Hearing Aids (S.1056)
At A Glance:
The Problem: Currently South Carolinians, particularly the elderly, are getting ripped off by companies advertising on the internet and television. They offer hearing aids at discounted prices that are not properly fitted for the individual. That would be like selling eyeglasses without a prescription.
The Solution: We will protect our elderly citizens by requiring a license issued by South Carolina LLR to sell hearing ads.
- Prohibits the sale of hearing aids through the mail, internet or other means unless the sells holds a unsuspended or unrevoked license issued by SC LLR.
- The seller also must provide direct fitting, sale, and delivery of the products.
- Puts the sale of hearing aids in a similar sales category as eyeglasses.
- Breach of Security of State Agency Data (S.1086)
At A Glance:
The Problem: When the Department of Revenue’s security systems were hacked and 3.9 million South Carolina tax returns and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers had been exposed, taxpayers were not notified for several weeks after the breach occurred.
The Solution: Taxpayers have the right to know if their information has been compromised. This law would only allow for delays in the releasing of information it would compromise a SLED investigation.
- Requires the notification of a data breach at a state agency within 72 hours of discovery. The notification must be provide:
- a clear description of the incident in general term,
- a telephone number and website citizens can contact for information on the breach,
- and what the agency has done to protect from further unauthorized access of personal identifying information.
- The SC Department of Consumer Affairs is also required to post the information on their website.
County Election Commissions (H.3198)
At A Glance:
The Problem: A lawsuit has been filed that challenges the constitutionality of county election commissions created by local legislation. Local legislation has been ruled unconstitutional by the SC Supreme Court. This is a huge problem because it could create another election debacle like we saw two years ago.
The Solution: Elections are at the very heart of our democracy so we must head off controversy before it happens. To stop the debacle that would result from a successful lawsuit, we are passing a bill that will merge county election commissions and boards of registrations into single boards in each county. I inserted specific language about Cherokee County that protects our individual boards because they were created in the 1970s. Cherokee County will merge its two boards after the November election.
- Each county will have a combined “Board of Voter Registration and Elections” going forward.
- The members of this board will be appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the county legislative delegations.
- The boards will total not less than 5 and not more 9 persons. At least one appointee shall be a member of the Republican Party and one appointee shall be a member of the Democratic Party.
- Board members shall serve 4 year terms and may be reappointed.
- Any member that misses 3 consecutive board meetings shall be removed from office.
- Each board will elect a chairman and any other officers they may need.
- The board will hire a director and the director is responsible for hiring and managing the staff.
- The bill received 2nd reading on April 16.
By Drew Brooks
S.C. Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler said efforts to legislate relief for the victims of the Cleveland Park miniature train derailment will continue, even after lawyers agreed to a $1.6 million settlement in a related lawsuit.
Peeler, R-Gaffney, repeatedly has pushed various forms of legislation in an attempt to help the affected families, many of whom were from Gaffney.
The last effort, an amendment to a bill that would establish a fund for victims of the S.C. Department of Revenue hacking, passed the Senate in April, but it did not garner support in the House of Representatives.
Peeler, who is part of a six-member conference committee that will help combine the House and Senate versions of the state budget, said he will use that position to hopefully secure additional funds for the victims through the Capital Reserve Fund.
“The act of trying to right a wrong, it doesn’t have a shelf life,” he said.
The $1.6 million settlement, which still must be approved by a Circuit Court judge, will not cover the total cost of medical bills for the families of 6-year-old Benji Easler, who was killed in the crash, and the 28 others who were injured when the miniature train derailed and dashed its passengers onto a rocky bank and into a creek.
The budget conference committee has not yet met, Peeler said. He is joined in the group by Sens. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, and Reps. Brian White, R-Anderson, Gary Simrill, R-York, and Mike Anthony, D-Union.
Last year, Peeler passed similar legislation to create a fund and, like this year, it passed the Senate but died in the House. He then tried to use a $2 million budget proviso to secure the funds, but that was killed by a budget conference committee immediately before the final document was sent to Gov. Nikki Haley.
Peeler said he first learned of the settlement agreement last week and called it “a long time coming.”
“This is good news, if there is such a thing as good news in this tragedy,” he said.
“But this does not affect my efforts,” Peeler added. “The fund is still needed.”
Lawyers for the victims said they reached the settlement agreement late last month after nearly eight hours of mediation that opened with a showing of a video of the crash shot on a passenger’s phone.
They discussed the settlement with the Herald-Journal on Friday. County and state officials confirmed the agreement, but would not provide details.
The money will be split between the families by a process that has yet to be determined, lawyers said. The settlement amount will come from the state’s Insurance Reserve Fund.
Despite the agreement, lawyers for the victims said there were mixed feelings because the money will not cover all of the bills.
For some of the families involved, physically healing from the crash has been a lengthy, expensive road. At least one family has medical bills of $1 million, lawyers said.
Peeler agreed with the sentiment.
“It’s been a frustration for me,” he said of efforts to fund the families. “I can only imagine how frustrating it has been for the families.”
The Cleveland Park miniature train, named Sparkles, derailed on March 19, 2011.
In the wake of the crash, numerous details surfaced about the train’s operation and maintenance. The train, which county officials previously had not used because it had been deemed unsafe after spending years in storage, was in its first run of the season with passengers when it derailed.
During the course of an investigation, the Spartanburg County Coroner’s Office determined that speed — nearly three times as fast as recommended — was a factor in the crash, though prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence to charge the driver of the amusement ride. A state inspector also lost his job after falsifying the train’s inspection report just days before the derailment.
Courtesy of GoUpstate.com
Columbia, SC – June 6, 2013 – The Senate adjourned yesterday with a number of important bills passed, and several more in the pipeline expected for final passage early next year when the two-year session concludes.
“We made some important progress this year on our agenda for jobs and reform, namely getting the election fiasco corrected, stopping Medicaid expansion, and making great strides in moving along the Department of Administration and Ethics bills,” said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler. “I for one am disappointed in the fact that we didn’t have time to get both those bills to the governor’s desk, but I believe we will continue to work in the interim and can do so early next year. My hope is that when the legislature reconvenes, we can pass both of those bills quickly, as well as a comprehensive plan to fund our roads.”
Among the top bills passed:
· Election fix: One of the Senate Republican Caucus’ top agenda items, this bill fixes the problems in state law that caused hundreds to get thrown off the ballot. The bill also protects the ability of political party voters to choose their nominees through primaries instead of allowing party bosses to hand-pick nominees at their convention. Before a party could choose to alter its nominating method, three-quarters of the party’s convention must vote to put a referendum before the primary voters, who would then have a vote to decide the outcome.”
· Sweepstakes: Gets rid of what the gambling industry claimed was a loophole in the current law that allows them to operate thinly veiled “sweepstakes” machines. It will essentially ban the machines and prevent a resurgence of video poker.
· Mental Health Reporting: Requires SLED to enter into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System the names of those adjudicated for mental illnesses.
· Flags at Half-Staff: Requires the lowering of the flag to half-staff at the State House when a SC resident loses their life in the military.
Passed both the House and Senate
· Department of Administration: Moves the administrative functions of government to a newly created Department of Administration. The Department will include human resources, general services, and an executive budget and strategic planning office. In conference committee
· CWP Holders In Bars and Restaurants: Bill prohibits the carrying of weapons by CWP holders in bars or restaurants from 12:00 AM to 5:00 AM. CWP holders carrying weapons are prohibited consuming alcohol. Property owners are permitted to post a sign prohibiting the carrying of weapons by CWP holders.
Passed the Senate, awaiting action in the House:
· DUI: The bill will strengthen DUI laws in the state for repeat offenders, and allow Ignition Interlock Devices to be installed in vehicles of first time offenders.
· Early Voting: Designed to alleviate long lines at the polls on election day by granting 7 days of early voting.
· NDAA nullification: Prohibits an officer of the state from enforcing the National Defense Authorization Act and being detained without trial.
· Cyber Security: Offers identity monitoring for all SC residents and establishes an authority to strengthen cyber security for political subdivisions with the autonomy to overrule agency directors.
Agenda Items Not Passed
· Ethics: The Ethics bill remains on the Senate calendar and is first in line to be debated again next year.
· Transportation Funding: a comprehensive transportation funding proposal remains on the Senate Calendar.
· Spending Caps: The two components to the spending caps bills remain in Finance and Judiciary Committees
Columbia, SC – June 5, 2013 - The Senate today adopted a conference report for S.2, a bill that fixes the issues in state law that resulted last year in hundreds being thrown off the ballot. The bill was a top priority for the Senate Republican Caucus going into session. Senators Paul Thurmond and Chip Campsen were the Senate Republican conferees.
“What happened this past year was a disgrace and a disservice to voters,” Campsen said. “With this bill, we are ensuring it never happens again, and that there won’t be this level of confusion at the next filing time.”
“As someone who had to fight to stay on the ballot, I know firsthand how badly this law needed to be updated,” Thurmond said. “This bill is all about preserving options at the ballot box.”
By Felicia Kitzmiller
A veteran newsman said he was awed when the South Carolina Senate, a body he covered for more than two decades, welcomed him home to the statehouse during Tuesday’s session.
Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, and the Union County delegation presented Ralph Greer of Union with a resolution passed by the House and the Senate recognizing his contributions to the state and the profession of journalism.
“He epitomizes what a news reporter should be,” Peeler said. “He has a way of bringing out the personality of the person he is interviewing, politicians, the man on the street, everyone. So many reporters today, it feels like they are just passing through; not Ralph.”
When he arrived in the statehouse for Tuesday’s presentation, Greer slipped comfortably into the ebb and flow of a busy day on the floor of the Legislature. Greer worked at the Herald-Journal from 1960 to 1995 and covered state government from 1969 to 1991. He also covered Union County and Cherokee County.
“Just being in this particular place,” Greer said. “Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, but you can.”
The building evoked memories from Greer of a time when journalism was less competitive. The capitol press corps all went to lunch together, and if there were multiple meetings occurring simultaneously, competing reporters would divvy up the schedule and swap notes at the end of the day.
“There’s no secrets in this building,” Greer said. There’s not now and there never were.”
Greer started his career in radio at WBCU in 1957 before joining the Herald-Journal. While covering the statehouse, he also recorded and introduced a 30 minute TV program called “Statehouse Week in Review.”
Greer said his favorite people in state government to cover were former governors Jim Edwards and Carroll Campbell.
Most of the people Greer covered have moved on, but Greer is grateful for his role as a witness to and recorder of history.
“The ones you read about in history books, I was here. I feel grateful to have watched them work and gotten to know them,” he said.
After he retired from the Herald-Journal, Greer started his own publishing company and started writing for the Union County News when the weekly paper started in 2009.
Herald-Journal Executive Editor Mike Smith said Greer deserves recognition by lawmakers. “I have good memories of working with Ralph when I was a young reporter. He is a genuine gentleman, always willing to share his experience and wisdom with his younger colleagues.”
Peeler said he saw Greer on his first day in the Senate in 1981. When he ran into him again more than 30 years later at a recent Union County Chamber of Commerce meeting, the two started reminiscing about old times and Peeler said he knew he wanted to bring Greer back to the statehouse for recognition.
After the resolution was read, each of the senators filed past Greer for introductions and a handshake.
“That they would do that for me is incredible,” he said.
Courtesy of GoUpstate.com
A bill that would strengthen the state’s emphasis on teaching students to read could have an enormous impact on educational performance. But state lawmakers need to provide the money to pay for the program.
The Read to Succeed Act is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, who represents most of western and northern York County. The bill would require school districts to develop district-wide plans for reading instruction with help from a new $500,000 state Department of Education Office.
The plan’s key mandate – and the one likely to be the most controversial – would be a requirement to hold back third-graders if they are not reading on grade level. Other measures in the bill include requiring every student entering pre-kindergarten or kindergarten to take a readiness screening test.
Any pre-kindergarten through third-grade student having trouble reading grade-level materials would be provided 90 minutes of intensive, in-class supplemental reading intervention each day. Students who still are identified with having significant problems at the end of the school year would go to summer reading camps.
In addition, elementary and early childhood teachers would have to take five supplemental courses in reading education. Middle- and high-school teachers would have to take three of those courses.
Educator groups support the concept of the bill but worry that the state is passing the burden of paying for it to local districts. So far, the only additional funding proposed explicitly for Read to Succeed is $1.5 million the Senate added to its budget proposal for summer reading camps for struggling third-graders.
The Senate also has added $26 million to the budget to expand full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten for districts with at least 75 percent of the population living in poverty.
But the bill’s key supporters envision paying for nearly all of the cost of the initiative from $136 million districts already receive for students at risk of failure. The districts could use their spending flexibility to redirect all or some of that money to reading programs.
But districts already are using that money for at-risk students and other purposes. Some districts have asked to use the money to help pay teacher salaries.
If implemented as planned, Read to Succeed would be expensive. Districts would have to hire reading coaches, provide training for teachers and buy new classroom and library materials.
While we think the plan could potentially boost the quality of education statewide and put a significant dent in the dropout rate, lawmakers have to step up and provide the means to make it work. They can’t simply mandate it and then expect local districts to pay for it our of discretionary money that is designated for other purposes.
The bill’s sponsors used a similar program in Florida as the model for Read to Succeed. But Florida launched its program with a $300 million federal grant spread over six years and continues to commit millions of dollars in state money to sustain it.
South Carolina lawmakers are unlikely to be able to estimate the full cost of Read to Succeed until they hear from local districts about the reading initiatives they want to institute. Until those costs are known, the state shouldn’t be shifting the burden for expensive new programs to the districts.
We need an initiative that will help South Carolina children learn to read proficiently by the third grade, not just another unfunded mandate from the Legislature.
Courtesy of HeraldOnline.com.
By JAMIE SELF
A plan to make reading a focus in South Carolina public schools will require few new dollars and a lot of rethinking of how existing money is spent, supporters say.
But education groups have raised questions about the price of the sweeping education reform proposal, inspired by Florida, whose trademark policy would be holding back third-graders who score the lowest on a statewide test for a year of reading-intensive instruction aimed at getting them reading on grade level.
Third grade is the year students must become independent readers to “read to learn” and have academic success later.
The proposal, critics note, does not include money for training teachers or reading coaches for schools – two essentials for making that reading instruction worthwhile, they say.
“Everyone who has been successful (with that approach) says you’ve got to train teachers, you’ve got to have reading coaches and after-school programs,” said Molly Spearman, director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, which supports the proposal in concept.
“(Florida) really committed to it financially,” Spearman said. “South Carolina needs to step up to the plate.”
The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, who represents most of western and northern York County, calls for summer reading camps for struggling readers. The Senate put $1.5 million for reading camps in the state budget beginning July 1.
Democrats also want to expand a state 4-year-old kindergarten program for children living in poverty – another way to prepare students for the third-grade reading test, they say. The Senate also included $26 million for the expansion in next year’s budget.
Details of the bill
Under Peeler’s bill, school districts would develop district-wide plans for reading instruction with help from a new $500,000 state Department of Education office.
But, concerning educator groups, the bill would leave the cost of literacy training to teachers and, without committing money to specific reading initiatives, leave it to districts to decide how to pay for reading programs.
Supporters of that approach say districts can use their spending flexibility to redirect $136 million they already receive for students at risk of school failure.
The problem, as Spearman and others have noted, some districts have requested to use the money for other purposes, such as paying for teacher salaries.
“Flexibility is a nice word to use, but when that flexibility is used to cover teachers’ salaries and benefits,” the money has been used for a necessary purpose, she said.
Florida’s education system – with a more than $18 billion budget and 2.7 million students – benefited from some new education money when it launched its reading program.
The state received a $300 million federal grant spread over six years that provided the state’s lowest-performing, low-income schools with elementary school reading coaches, training for teachers, and classroom and library materials. The grant also paid for a reading research center and other services, according to Laurie Lee with the Just Read, Florida office.
The state also paid for more programs through its reading office, ranging from $8.4 million in its first year to $46 million in 2004. The office provided support for districts, training programs for educators, and literacy programs for parents.
In 2005, Florida created a separate reading line-item in the education budget for districts, Lee said. The commitment has grown to $130 million from $89 million, increasing as state money for the reading office has declined in the recession.
To qualify for the reading money, school districts had to create reading plans that included reaching coaches, professional development for teachers, and summer reading camps.
Funding in S.C.
Jay Ragley, spokesman for S.C. schools chief Mick Zais, who supports the “third-grade promotion gateway,” said South Carolina has at least $136 million that could be redirected to reading initiatives.
Melanie Barton, director of the state Education Oversight Committee, said S.C. lawmakers may need to look at additional money for the reading program, if it becomes law, but the first step is to enact a statewide reading policy, and then work with districts to figure out how best to achieve the policy’s goals through community partnerships and using existing money available for struggling students.
Courtesy of HeraldOnline.com
UNION COUNTY — Each year, the Union County Chamber of Commerce Annual Member Banquet is highlighted by a number of awards, which are chosen by chamber members and evaluated by the chamber’s nominating committee. Selections are based on each industry, business or group’s contribution to the chamber mission and its overall service to Union County as a whole.
Industry of the Year
The 2013 Union County Chamber of Commerce Industry of the Year is Haemonetics, The Blood Management Company.
During the award presentation, chamber Executive Director Torance Inman described the company as “one of our unsung heroes who go quietly about their day-to-day operations, tucked away from sight while making a tremendous impact on the local economy and community.” Inman said Haemonetics has been and continues to be a tremendous supporter and partner of the Chamber of Commerce. He pointed out that the company supports local activities such as Downtown Open House, Leadership Union, Youth Leadership Union County and others. Senior Corporate Officer Kelly Lawson accepted the award on behalf of the company.
“I don’t know what we would do without them,” Inman said. “it is always entertaining when touring the facility and everyone puts on the hair net and mask. Some industries like to call themselves ‘lean and mean,’ but this industry is ‘lean and clean.’”
Inman also said the company recently celebrated 25 years in Union County.
Small Business of the Year
The 2013 Union County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year is Wades Employment Agency.
“Small Business of the Year is awarded to a business that has created a strong positive employee relationship and seeks new levels of customer service,” Inman said. “The business is one that encourages others to act for the good of the community and is a long-standing active member of the Chamber of Commerce.”
Inman said Wade’s Employment Agency is locally owned and operated, employs Union people, and although manned by a small staff, employs over 100 individuals annually. He pointed out that Wade’s is also active in volunteer groups such as First Steps, Save the Children, the Jerusalem Project and United Way.
The award was accepted by owner Roger Wade.
“This business owner is an example for his employees and to all those they serve,” Inman said. “He is an outstanding community leader and veteran of our armed forces.”
Service Group of the Year
The 2013 Union County Chamber of Commerce Service Group of the Year is the Union County Arts Council.
Inman said this award is designed to recognize a group which has promoted positive community growth and awareness. He explained that the arts council has served the county for many years, providing educational, cultural and artistic events and activities year-round, day and night.
“They provide first class art shows and workshops featuring top names in art and music,” Inman said. “They have even featured three generations of local artists.”
President Bennie Giles accepted the award.
“The leadership provided by Bennie Giles and Harold and Jackie Senn has taken the Union County Arts Council to new heights and they are still climbing.”
The 2013 Union County Chamber of Commerce Shining Star is Barbara Rippy.
“Union County is full of stars that brightly shine throughout the county making Union a great place,” Inman said, pointing out that Rippy is seen not only in Union, but in surrounding areas, supporting a number of civic groups and organizations.
“This person loves Union more than most anyone I know. You will see this star at just about every event there is in Union County, lending her support and bending your ear. She is always there — most always late — but always there giving of herself.”
Rippy accepted the award, explaining that her recent contributions to various entities in the county have been in memory of her late husband, Dr. Bobby Rippy.
“He loved Union just like I do,” Rippy said, mentioning that she and her husband came to Union 42 years ago. “Union people have always been good to us, and we have always tried to be good to them. I know Bobby’s in heaven, looking down and smiling, saying, ‘Barbara, job well done.’”
Friend of the Chamber
The 2013 Union County Chamber of Commerce Friend of the Chamber is The Union Daily Times.
Inman said that each year, the chamber’s board of directors recognizes a person or organization that shows an intense interest in the chamber and invests time, energy and money in Chamber sponsored activities.
“Over this past year, this organization has shown exceptional support by being involved in chamber activities and promoting all aspects of the chamber,” Inman said. “Their local leadership understands the value of partnering with the Chamber of Commerce in the promotion of Union County as a whole.”
Inman pointed out that The Union Daily Times has promoted Business After Hours, sponsored Leadership Union, publicized all chamber initiatives throughout the year and are name sponsors in the upcoming Downtown Music Fest.
Inman praised The Union Daily Times for prompt responses, attendance at board meetings and encouragement of others to get involved and support the chamber.
Everyone at The Union Daily Times is extremely grateful for — and honored by — this recognition.
Volunteer of the Year
The 2013 Union County Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year is Roger Bailey.
“What would the world do without volunteers?” Inman asked. “This year’s volunteer is one who supports veterans, Civitan, Miracle League, Boogaloo Broadcasting, Relay for Life, Uniquely Union, the Union Christmas Parade, and many others. He is a volunteer fireman, serves on the Union County Fair Board, a retired National Guardsman, and serves on many committees at his local church. And if that’s not enough, he is the Union County High School Booster Club ‘All-Time Cheerleader.’”
President’s Choice Award
The 2013 Union County Chamber of Commerce President’s Choice Award was presented by chamber president Pam Roberts. Roberts said the award is reserved for the current chamber president to select an individual, industry or business who has shown outstanding support for the chamber and the community through the year.
This year’s President’s Choice Award was presented to Founders Federal Credit Union.
Roberts said Founders Federal Credit Union has been a very active chamber member and supporter of chamber events and initiatives.
“They have attended every Business After Hours and have sponsored several,” Roberts said. “They have supported and are active members of Leadership Union. They have provided financial support for Leadership Union projects and are sponsors of the Downtown Music Fest this summer. Although their home office is not in Union, their presence and involvement in Union is significant.
The award was accepted by Business Development Specialist Allison Weir.
Source: Union Daily Times
If identity theft victims can be reimbursed, so can local families
The S.C. Senate passed a bill last week that would provide a fund to reimburse taxpayers who suffer from identity theft because the state failed to secure their personal financial information included in their tax returns.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler saw an opportunity and seized it. If the state is willing to reimburse people hurt financially from this state’s failure, why not people hurt physically by the derailment of the miniature train in Cleveland Park, another state failure? He introduced an amendment to create a fund to help the train victims. It passed the Senate.
The House needs to pass this bill as well. Every member of the Spartanburg and Cherokee delegations needs to step up and lead this issue the way Peeler has in the Senate. It is nothing less than a shameful outrage that these families have not gotten help from the state.
These parents and children had no reason to think the miniature train at Cleveland Park might be dangerous. But the state did. It did not properly inspect the train, and the county’s driver drove it too fast.
When the train derailed, 6-year-old Benji Easler was killed. Other children were seriously injured, requiring multiple surgeries, months of care and years of physical therapy. Peeler estimates that $1.7 million in medical bills needs to be paid for the incident.
There is litigation under way against the state and the county, which is a political subdivision of the state, but state law limits the government’s liability to $600,000.
That’s simply not good enough. These families can never be made whole. Money can’t replace a lost son or restore a sound body, but the very least the state can do to make up for its negligence and failure is to reimburse these families for their actual costs.
Unfortunately, it may not happen. Peeler succeeded in getting this bill passed last year, but it was killed in budget negotiations. That is nothing less than a black mark on the honor of the General Assembly.
The House must pass Peeler’s amendment. It must appropriate money for the fund to reimburse the victims. Decency and any sense of obligation or responsibility demand it.
Peeler points out that only lawmakers from this area care about the issue. That’s a failure on the part of lawmakers from other parts of the state. If the General Assembly passes the plan to reimburse victims of identity theft but rejects this plan to reimburse victims of the Cleveland Park train wreck, we will know several things about Palmetto State lawmakers.
We will know they have no sense of responsibility. They won’t be living up to an obligation to make up for the state’s failure. They will simply be pandering to their own constituents.
We will know they do not truly care about South Carolinians. We will know they care only about making sure their constituents continue to vote for them. We will know votes and money matter more to them than their humanity.
If the General Assembly does not reimburse these families, it deserves the full disgust and repudiation of all South Carolinians.
In terms of its long-term impact on the future of the state, the Read to Succeed Act could be the most important bill the state Legislature considers this year.
Few would dispute that improving education is one of South Carolina’s most important goals. And raising reading proficiency is at the heart of improving education overall.
The Read to Succeed Act aims to strengthen the state’s emphasis on reading in pre-kindergarten to 12th grades. Its key mandate – and what is certain to be its most controversial element – would be a requirement to hold back third-graders if they are not reading on grade level.
Other measures in the bill include requiring every student entering pre-kindergarten or kindergarten to take a readiness screening test. Any pre-kindergarten through third-grade student having trouble reading grade-level materials would be provided 90 minutes of intensive, in-class supplemental reading intervention each day.
Students who still are identified with having significant problems at the end of the school year would go to summer reading camps. And, finally, those who can’t read at grade level by the third grade would be retained.
In addition, elementary and early childhood teachers would have to take five courses supplemental in reading education. Middle- and high-school teachers would have to take three of those courses.
The state would create a new Read to Succeed Office and a Reading Proficiency Panel to help school districts and universities implement the law’s requirements. And each district would have to create a reading proficiency plan of its own.
Some have criticized the proposal to retain third-graders who can’t read because of the stigma it would create and because, they assert, retention alone won’t solve the problem. But, as state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, the bill’s chief sponsor, asserts, “a stigma for a year beats a stigma for a lifetime.”
Educators have long known that the ability to read well by the third grade is a key predictor of whether students will be successful in higher grades and whether they ultimately will graduate from high school. And one in five of the state’s high school students doesn’t graduate within five years.
Even those who do are not necessarily reading at grade level. Officials with the state’s technical colleges report that 41 percent of high school graduates need remedial help with reading skills to be able to perform at a college level.
That costs the state about $21 million a year to pay faculty needed to teach students what they should have learned in high school.
While holding some third-graders back might produce some stigma, it would give those students time to catch up with their peers and keep pace in later grades. Ultimately, being retained for a year is likely to be less traumatic than constantly struggling to keep up with fellow students.
Read to Succeed is modeled after a Florida law that took effect in 2002 under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Since then, 13 other states have adopted the policy.
But Read to Succeed also closely mirrors the recommendations made by the S.C. Education Oversight Committee in its goals for 2020 report in February.
No other single factor is as important in educational success than being able to read. And the earlier schools intervene, the better a student’s chances of succeeding throughout his or her educational career.
Peeler is confident the bill has the support to pass. We hope he’s right and that fellow lawmakers will support this crucial legislation.
Courtesy of HeraldOnline.com