Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham was making the case for his re-election when he said of his opponent, Orangeburg Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto, during the 2014 campaign: He should continue to do a good job for South Carolina as a member of the state Senate.
Fact is, Hutto does play an important role in the state Senate as a lawmaker with 20 years’ seniority and membership on the Judiciary Committee. He is looked to by Republicans and fellow Democrats for input on key legislation.
Hutto most recently did a good day’s work for the people of South Carolina in speaking up for freedom of speech/press guaranteed in the First Amendment.
S. 255 was under consideration by the Judiciary Committee, a bill aimed at websites that publish photographs of people charged with crimes and then charge hundreds of dollars to individuals who subsequently want their images removed from the website, whether the person is guilty or not.
As noted by S.C. Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers, the sites are committing extortion and should be stopped. But Republican Sen. Paul Thurmond wanted the bill to go further, requiring newspapers and other media websites to remove information.
After comments by Hutto and Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, Thurmond ultimately backed away from his proposal.
Amendments offered by Thurmond would put the government in the business of telling newspapers and other media what they can and cannot publish on their websites, putting the legislation in direct conflict with the First Amendment.
Still, there is likely to be the argument on the Senate floor that newspapers should also be removing photos from their websites, particularly when people charged with crimes are found not guilty or charges are dropped.
As noted by Rogers in a recent column for scpress.org, part of the argument against Thurmond’s proposal was that newspapers, on their own, do a good job of using stories or attaching notes to stories when charges are dropped or reduced.
“We need to keep doing that. That’s only fair,” Rogers said.
One of the examples given to the committee was a story and “mug shot” photo of the arrest of a well-connected Mt. Pleasant councilman on drunken-driving charges. The newspaper ran a story and a mug shot when he was arrested. Charges against the man were later dismissed. The newspaper wrote a story about this dismissal – and just as that story and the arrest story in print editions are forever a part of the record, so are the stories on the newspaper’s website.
“The first story was part of history and should not be rewritten or removed,” Rogers said. “It was correct.”
Editors frequently are asked to remove stories from websites. “This happened years ago and I am a changed person,” people say when they call to ask that stories of their arrests and even convictions be removed. “You are keeping me from getting a job,” they say.
But, as Rogers writes, newspapers are a current history “and we can’t rewrite history and keep our credibility.”
A great deal of S. 255 dealt with changes in the state’s expungement laws, Rogers said. Many legislators seem intent on expanding expungement and making it easier and cheaper to accomplish.
“I think the intent is to remove historic public information that would keep people from getting a job. It is my opinion that having your name in the paper as having been arrested is more of a problem for many than the actual arrest. The councilman's case … is likely a good example.
“But there are problems with expungement. If I am hiring an employee, I would like to know if they have been arrested and convicted of a crime of moral turpitude. Then I can make a decision about hiring that person. If I want to consider a bad-check conviction 10 years ago as no big deal, I can do that. But that should be an employer’s decision, not the government’s, which would hide a person's criminal history.
“Journalistically, a person’s criminal record is a legitimate and important part of an arrest story.”
The expungement issue aside, the bottom line is government does not legislate what the media can and cannot publish, whether it’s news about weddings and births or photos and stories about an arrest. Government attempts to cast aside, limit or make mandates related to that First Amendment guarantee are a danger to everyone.
We thank Sens. Hutto and Martin for their part in making that clear.