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South Carolina editorial roundup

May 1, 2019

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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April 26:

The Post and Courier of Charleston on environmental proposals passed by the South Carolina Senate:

South Carolina senators made a strong statement in support of the environment with their votes to make it difficult for companies to start oil exploration projects off our coast and to allow local governments to keep approving and enforcing bans on plastic bags.

Both votes were encouraging for our entire state but particularly for the coast, where President Donald Trump’s plan to allow seismic testing (now on hold but not abandoned) threatens marine creatures and tourism, and where local efforts to protect wildlife from flimsy grocery store plastic bags are under attack from the packaging industry.

Although we don’t know where the House stands, the Senate’s overwhelming 40-4 vote to prohibit state agencies and local governments from permitting any facilities for use in oil exploration or drilling at the least signals that the Legislature won’t be passing the House bill to prohibit state agencies and local governments from doing anything to “deter, prohibit, or otherwise impede” oil and gas exploration and drilling.

And the plastic bags vote strongly suggests that the Legislature will not be able to roll back anti-plastic ordinances in Charleston and Beaufort counties and several coastal communities, or to prohibit more communities from enacting them.

That’s excellent news for all the marine creatures that would be endangered by seismic testing and that already face a slow and painful death by starvation as a result of accidentally ingesting plastic bags. It’s good news as well for our $23 billion-a-year tourism industry, which would be endangered by oil spills and certainly isn’t helped by the unsightly litter that plastic bags contribute to.

But the way the Senate chose to go about all this is less than ideal.

Oh, it was absolutely right for the Senate to refuse (by a strong 27-15 vote) to add the ban on plastic bag bans to the state budget, not just because it’s a bad idea but also because policy issues such as this don’t need to be added to the state budget. But while the exploration provision is for several technical reasons far less disturbing, it remains a matter that ought to be considered in a stand-alone bill.

We realize this sounds pretty wonky — particularly since neither the approved nor the rejected budget proviso crosses the red line that marks irresponsible lawmaking and violates the state constitution. But taking a bill that legislators want to pass as a stand-alone law and inserting it into the budget short-circuits a process that is designed to prevent the Legislature from accidentally making irresponsible or little-known decisions, or passing laws without sufficient public input.

Budget provisos are supposed to tell state agencies how to spend the money they are allocated in the budget, and from a technical standpoint, the drilling proviso is flawless: It says DHEC can’t use any state funding to “approve a plan, permit, license application or other authorization” for any pipelines, tanks or other infrastructure that might be needed by drilling companies.

But the spending language is pretext to create a very smart policy that has little to do with how DHEC spends state funds and a lot to do with what we allow businesses to do to our coast. It really needs to be passed as a separate law, and not just because this proviso lasts for only a year.

Whether the House goes along with the proviso or not, the Senate should pass a separate bill banning exploration and drilling off our coast — which should be easy to do, given the near-unanimous support of the proviso. And then the House needs to approve that. We need to protect our coast, but we need to do it permanently, not just for one year.

https://www.postandcourier.com

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April 24:

The Index-Journal of Greenwood on proposed $50 rebates for some South Carolina income taxpayers:

What a crock. And with it, you can buy yourself a pair of Crocs, but so what?

We are, of course, referencing state lawmakers’ decision to refund taxpayers roughly $50 apiece with an unexpected $61 million windfall that resulted from the Mega-Millions jackpot.

Tax-and-spend is no more our motto than it belongs to most taxpayers across the Palmetto State, and we do appreciate those occasions — rare as they might be — when lawmakers appear to be frugal with our money. This is not one of those times, however, especially in light of the fact that it will cost the state nearly three-quarters of a million bucks to send each taxpayer 50 bucks.

Surely something more important and meaningful could be done with that money. Not every lawmaker agreed with the proposal. A couple of coastal Republican lawmakers agree, even if they don’t agree on how best to spend the windfall. Charleston Sen. Sandy Senn thought litter control would be a good option while Sen. Greg Hembree of Horry County suggested the windfall be used to prop up the state’s underfunded pension system.

What’s done is done and the rebate looks like nothing more than a way to try to appease voters. Er, taxpayers.

Meanwhile, how about this idea: Lawmakers, get a firm grip on the budget, what can and cannot be expected, and outline priorities even ahead of unexpected windfalls such as the one that came about from the sale of a winning lottery ticket.

Come to think of it, aren’t lottery dollars supposed to help fund education efforts? Or is the state of our state’s public schools just fine?

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com

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April 14

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal on protecting local news organizations’ viability:

There is strength in numbers. And through that means, local news organizations hope to gain stronger, much-needed financial footing.

On April 3, U.S. Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Doug Collins, R-Ga., introduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, designed to enable local news providers to negotiate collectively with digital giants Google and Facebook, among others. Cicilline is chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee and Collins is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The legislation, if passed, would grant these news providers limited temporary safe harbor from antitrust laws for 48 months. During that time, the bill would enable them to legally band together for greater negotiating strength in dealings with digital platforms.

Why is this important? Because as technology has advanced over time, local news organizations have suffered, with much of their readership turning to the internet rather than the printed page for news. The result has been slashed personnel and other cutbacks as previous revenue streams have shrunk.

The industry has been adapting and is embracing the digital age, but it needs a more level playing field in order to preserve sustainable financial footing.

This is where Google and Facebook come into play. Cicilline states on his website that in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans regularly accessed their news through those two platforms. Note the word “accessed.” Google News and Facebook’s news feed don’t create the work product of local, state and national news on its feeds — it shares the work of local news entities across the country. And in doing so, the two platforms raked in a combined $60 billion-plus last year in online advertising revenue, according to Cicilline.

Meanwhile, many local news providers — which did create the work product on those feeds — are struggling. They receive little, if any, compensation from Google and Facebook for their shared work and little, if any, say in how and where it is shared. And, acting individually, they don’t have much clout to improve their situation.

Coming together collectively, however, may enable them to negotiate more lucrative agreements with the online giants, and in doing so help preserve their very existence. That’s the intent behind the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.

Why should you care? Because local news providers play such an instrumental role in their communities that goes well beyond the big, breaking stories. They keep you informed about the goings-on of your school boards and your city and county councils. They keep you apprised of proposed tax measures, bond referendums, economic development, etc. And they keep a check on local governing bodies’ actions.

They are, in essence, watchdogs for their communities. And through their existence, we all benefit as members of those communities.

Congress should pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. It would aid the viability of local news organizations and preserve your source of the local news and information important to your community.

Online: https://www.goupstate.com