Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Times and Democrat
S.C. Sen. Scott’s police reform proposals
It’s not hard to believe that most Americans do not favor efforts to defund police departments. But it comes as no surprise that a majority sees the need for reforms that will bring together police and the public while better serving and protecting both.
Despite national media coverage of police that is skewed, support to redistribute police department funding has decreased among Americans since August after a summer of protests erupted across the country against racial injustice and police brutality, a recent Ipsos/USA Today poll found.
Only 18% of respondents supported the movement known as “defund the police,” and 58% said they oppose it. Though white Americans (67%) and Republicans (84%) were much more likely to oppose the movement, only 28% of Black Americans and 34% of Democrats were in favor of it.
On the national level, Congress in 2020 again proved that the politics surrounding police is more a priority than taking action regarding reforms.
House Democrats, with only three GOP representatives voting with them, passed legislation that could not gain a foothold in the then-GOP Senate.
In the Senate, the rules made it such that a handful of Democratic votes were needed to get legislation engineered by S.C. Sen. Tim Scott to the floor for debate. Not a single Democrat would vote to do so.
The ’90s-era Tamagotchi is back – this time with a camera
Democrats claimed Scott’s bill did not go far enough with reforms, though the competing legislative proposals both addressed key issues.
On reporting police misconduct, Democrats wanted a registry of all officers that compiles misconduct complaints, disciplinary records, certifications and termination notices. The GOP plan would require agencies to keep personnel and disciplinary records for 30 years, including substantiated allegations of misconduct, and would require an agency hiring an officer to review the records.
On use-of-force reporting, Democrats would require states to notify the Justice Department of any instance of use of force against a civilian or an officer. Republicans would require state and local jurisdictions to report misconduct to the FBI for inclusion in a national database.
On police bias training, Democrats would mandate training on racial, religious or other discriminatory profiling and would condition federal funding on adoption of policies to combat profiling. Republicans would fund a racism education program created by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Democrats would end no-knock warrants in drug cases and ban chokeholds, while Republicans would require reporting on no-knock warrants and mandate that local agencies adopt policies restricting use of chokeholds except where deadly force is authorized.
Both legislative plans would have addressed use of body cameras by police, but Democrats mandated them while Republicans created a grant program to provide them to local police.
Both parties took a stand against lynching, with Democrats making it a hate crime and Republicans adding an anti-lynching conspiracy provision to federal law.
The key difference, it appears, was over “qualified immunity.” Democrats would allow individuals to sue and recover damages when police violate their rights. The GOP legislation did not address the issue.
Scott’s legislation was a legitimate proposal to address key issues regarding law enforcement. It could have been a starting point for debate and crafting a compromise that those in the middle in America could support.
But a year ago with Donald Trump as president, the Democrats would do nothing to give him and his GOP supporters a perceived victory. And there is much the same attitude today among Republicans regarding President Joe Biden, though in many instances Biden is simply pushing through what he wants via executive order or using Democrats’ slim majorities in Congress.
Sadly, in the Washington of today, even getting to the point of realistically considering a compromise does not seem possible.
The Post and Courier
Passing state voting laws that remove voting restrictions
We aren’t convinced that people should be able to vote over the internet or that our state should mail ballots to voters who haven’t asked for them – or even mail applications to people who haven’t asked for them, although some counties do make requesting an absentee ballot more cumbersome than it needs to be. We haven’t heard a good reason to change state law to let people vote the day they register to vote.
But there’s no good reason to make most voters under age 65 stand in long lines on Election Day in order to participate in our democratic republic. And there’s no good reason to squander our valuable tax dollars buying enough voting machines and hiring enough poll workers to eliminate long lines.
Not when we have such a safe and easy alternative, which has worked without significant problems for decades for everyone 65 and older, along with people who are sick, out of town or meet one of a handful of other special exceptions for casting an absentee ballot.
Indeed, we have a hard time defending a system that allows people to cast an absentee ballot because they decide to go on vacation on Election Day while denying that option to people who could risk losing their job if they wait too long in line to vote – or who have to give up their right to vote because the line is so long that they have to leave to pick up their kids before their child-care center closes.
For years now, the S.C. House and Senate have agreed that we need to allow all registered voters to cast absentee ballots, and they’ve been passing bills to allow that. It just wasn’t enough of a priority for the two bodies to agree on the details.
The pandemic changed that, at least temporarily, as the Legislature opened absentee voting to all registered voters and not just those who were old, sick or out of town on Election Day.
And it worked spectacularly: No one alleged, even without evidence, that South Carolina’s voting was tinged by fraud. Expanded absentee voting didn’t cause massive technical problems. South Carolinians clearly liked the idea, with half of all the votes cast before Election Day. And that meant polling places were less crowded and waits were much shorter for those who preferred to cast their ballots in person on Election Day.
The great absentee voting experiment of 2020 also demonstrated that making voting easier isn’t the gift to Democrats that some Republicans feared – at least not in South Carolina. The GOP picked up seats in both the House and the Senate, and in Congress, and throughout much of the state.
So it should be no surprise that the Legislature is once again considering bills to expand early voting opportunities. Last week, the House Election Laws Subcommittee took testimony on H.3822, by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, which would allow all registered voters to cast absentee ballots by mail or in person. This Wednesday, the panel will hear testimony on another early voting bill, H.4150, by Rep. Weston Newton.
Neither bill is perfect.
H.3822 includes some of those provisions we aren’t convinced are necessary, such as allowing same-day registration and requiring the state to mail out ballots to all registered voters. H.4150 is less generous than it should be about how many absentee voting sites some counties could operate, and it greatly reduces the allowable reasons for casting mail-in absentee ballots, which means people aged 65 to 74 or who are caring for sick relatives or attending funerals or who have to be out of town on Election Day could only cast in-person absentee ballots.
Letting people vote on any of 14 days certainly is better than limiting them to one particular day. But there have not even been allegations of organized absentee ballot fraud in our state in decades (we know lots of people commit fraud, by saying they qualify to vote absentee when in fact they don’t), so there’s no good reason to require absentee ballots to be cast in person – and certainly not to reduce the number of people currently allowed to mail in their ballots.
The good news is that between them, the two bills contain all the elements we need for a voting law that removes unnecessary restrictions to voting, holds down the cost of elections and provides reasonable protections against fraud. Rep. Cobb-Hunter made it clear at Thursday’s hearing that she doesn’t expect her bill to survive intact, and Rep. Newton told Columbia’s State newspaper that he was open to compromise on his bill.
The House panel would do well to amend one of the bills to allow no-excuses absentee voting by mail or in person, just like we had in the 2020 elections, and to allow counties to open multiple (although not unlimited) in-person voting sites. We’ve spent too long arguing over the details while South Carolinians waste time waiting in too-long lines to exercise their most important civic duty.
Legislation that would update college history class curriculums
“They just don’t teach that anymore.” “Well, when I was in school we were taught (fill in the blank) …”
Those, and more like them, are common refrains we have heard many times over.
And so it should come as a pleasant surprise that state House members got behind legislation that would significantly update college history classes that haven’t been updated since – ready for this? – 1924.
Of course, as with any legislation, it wasn’t a slam dunk, nor is it a done deal. The Senate has to have its say, which could mean they like the House version or they might want to meddle with it some more.
In essence, the bill is intended to update the old law requiring a yearlong course on documents pertaining to America’s founding. That would include requiring students to read the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation in their entirety. Students would also be required to read a minimum of five articles in the Federalist Papers.
A much needed and warranted compromise was added to the House proposal to ensure students also delve into the struggle for freedom faced by the nation’s African-American population. It is unfortunate that lawmakers did not initially include the era of Reconstruction and the long road toward equal rights for the nation’s Black citizens, but that was remedied with a day’s work to ensure that element of history is included in the course.
The changes to the history course might not be perfect, but then again our country’s history is hardly perfect. We can hope the legislation passes, or is even more greatly improved upon by the Senate, so that college students not only gain a greater understanding of the country’s founding, but also of the historic truth that there were and yet are stumbles along the way toward a more perfect union.