Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The State on a law requiring people to wear face coverings in Columbia, South Carolina:
It’s now been 10 days since the city of Columbia enacted a law requiring people to wear face masks in public places in an effort to help stem South Carolina’s soaring COVID-19 rates.
So has the sky come falling toward Earth in Soda City over the last 10 days?
Not at all.
Given that fact isn’t it time for of all of the critics who erupted in rage when Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Council passed the face mask requirement — and who predicted it would have a negligible or even negative effect — to admit they’re wrong?
There’s no other conclusion to reach at the 10-day mark of Columbia’s face mask law.
Has the law changed behavior in Columbia?
It became official on June 26, and almost overnight there was a striking, visual increase in the number of people wearing face masks in public places and on public streets all across the city.
Are there people in Columbia who still aren’t wearing masks?
But that was always to be expected — and for two reasons:
▪ No law generates 100% compliance, because no law is enforced 100% of the time.
▪ There will always be people who will reflexively defy anything that seeks to change individual behavior — even to the point where if you simply told these folks to have a nice day, they’d resentfully accuse you of threatening their cherished right to have a horrible one.
So let’s face it: these people will never be swayed to wear face masks no matter how often they’re told that doing so could reduce the threat of COVID-19 in Columbia.
That’s why Columbia’s stubbornly mask-free population should not be publicly confronted or harassed by fellow citizens who are wearing masks: while refusing to use a face covering during a raging pandemic is clearly a display of poor judgment, it shouldn’t lead to another that sees people assume the role of the “face mask police.”
But that’s also why Columbia’s face mask law shouldn’t be judged on whether it leads every person in the city to wear a mask; rather, it should be judged on whether it motivates more people who weren’t wearing masks to start doing so.
Is the law meeting that reasonable goal? Without a doubt, it is.
IT’S INFLUENCING OTHERS
Has Columbia’s face mask law had a clear influence on others?
In the days since Columbia put its requirement in effect, Forest Acres, Lexington and Richland County have passed similar laws directing citizens to wear face coverings in public places.
So much, then, for the naysayers’ argument that Columbia’s move would be an empty gesture given Gov. Henry McMaster’s ongoing refusal to implement a statewide face mask requirement.
LEVELING THE FIELD
Has Columbia’s face mask law had an obvious, ominous negative impact on area businesses? Has it placed an obvious, onerous burden on area businesses seeking to, well, do business?
No and no.
It certainly hasn’t deterred people from flocking to establishments in downtown Columbia over the past 10 days, as anyone who has traveled the city’s main streets can attest.
And the fact is the city’s requirement on face masks in public places has actually helped Columbia businesses by putting them all on level footing.
The law has taken the onus off individual businesses that were previously under immense pressure to make their own decisions on whether to have their employees wear masks — much of that heat, by the way, coming from customers alarmed that workers weren’t wearing face coverings while interacting with the public.
SCOREBOARD DOESN’T LIE
In sports, it’s often said that the scoreboard never lies — and it’s fair to use that same adage in judging the effectiveness of Columbia’s face mask law 10 days into its introduction.
It’s changing the behavior of individuals in Columbia in a constructive way, but without infringing on individual rights of Columbia residents in an intrusive way.
It’s stirring others in the area’s public sector to act, but without hindering the ability of those in the area’s private sector to operate.
So the scoreboard suggests that Columbia’s face mask requirement has been a winning move by the city — and for those who live, work and carry out business in it, too.
And, no, the scoreboard isn’t lying.
The Times and Democrat on the removal of Confederate monuments:
The rush to remove monuments and statues around the country has become a misguided effort to remove the nation’s history. What long has been a focus on memorials to the Civil War Confederacy has become much more.
When statues to abolitionists and figures such as Union Gen. and former President Ulysses S. Grant are singled out, it is clear the Confederacy alone is no longer the target. Either those ready to remove monuments do not know history or they are simply determined to judge every figure by some undefined standard of the 21st century.
The disturbing push to remove, destroy, rename and otherwise do away with elements of U.S. history has lawmakers looking for ways to safeguard monuments including such icons as Mount Rushmore. It appears such legislation will be needed.
In South Carolina, the General Assembly in 2000 passed the Heritage Act in conjunction with removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome. The legislation was aimed at protecting war memorials. The act put into law the requirement for a two-thirds vote of the legislature to remove or alter monuments.
While the underlying purpose was to prevent wholesale removal of Confederate monuments, there since 2000 has been controversy surrounding other memorials from different wars. Local governments contend they, not the General Assembly, should have control over monuments in their jurisdictions.
That is the position of Orangeburg City Council, which via resolution has called for action by the General Assembly to alter the Heritage Act to allow it to remove the Confederate memorial statue from downtown. Local lawmakers have indicated they would support changes.
But in the current environment, it may be difficult to get a majority of state legislators in both houses to agree, and total abandonment of the Heritage Act is unlikely.
More likely is a court challenge to the law, which Attorney General Alan Wilson has stated via general opinion is constitutional. At the same time, Wilson said the law’s requirement for a two-thirds vote likely would be found unconstitutional. A simple majority vote in both houses would be required to remove or change a monument.
His opinion clearly sides with the state having authority over monuments.
“Only an act by the South Carolina General Assembly can remove a monument. This is a position we are prepared to support in court,” Wilson said in a video statement released with the opinion.
As to Charleston’s removal of a statue of slavery advocate and former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, Wilson said he would not challenge the action. The city argued the statue didn’t fall under the Heritage Act because it was a privately owned statue on public land. Wilson agreed, adding Calhoun’s statue wasn’t a war memorial or an honor for a Native American or African American, which are all mentioned specifically in the act.
Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler has said he believes any statue or memorial to a person who owned slaves should be removed.
As much as his opinion is shared by many as a concern larger than any worry about preserving history, there are legitimate historical concerns to be addressed. Consider these quotes from a recent opinion piece by Orangeburg’s William Green. They are worthy of contemplation as local leaders seek to make changes:
“When you erase your history, you have nothing to look back to and nothing to look forward to your future. You have to know where you have been to know where you are going.
“For the city to take charge into demolishing a (building) with this historical value is unjust to the citizens of Orangeburg.
“This is one more plague to erase the history of a people.
“I never thought I would see the city turn its back on the citizens of Orangeburg — past and present. We need (The State Theater) as standing proof of what happened to a race of people in Orangeburg, South Carolina.”
Green’s quotes referenced the building that once housed The State Theater on Railroad Corner, an African American landmark. Now substitute “monuments” for his reference. Are they worthy of the same contemplation?
The Post and Courier on reforming Santee Cooper:
In the year since Mark Bonsall and Charlie Duckworth arrived from Arizona to run South Carolina’s 86-year-old public utility, Santee Cooper has flouted the law that barred it from lobbying against legislative plans to sell it to an investor-owned utility and infuriated legislative leaders who blamed its leaders for nearly sabotaging a state budget agreement.
It also has developed its best-ever (some would say first-ever) plan to stop squandering ratepayers’ money and adapt to a rapidly evolving energy climate, and it has averted the threat of insolvency by negotiating a $520 million settlement to refund electric customers most of what they paid in higher power bills for the abandoned construction project at the V.C. Summer nuclear station.
Clearly Mr. Bonsall and Mr. Duckworth are not perfect. But they’ve put the utility and, more importantly, its customers in much better place than we could have imagined a year ago. So it was reasonable and responsible for the Santee Cooper board to vote last month to give them a six-month contract extension, through July 2021.
As long as the utility is operating under the current law, these are probably the best people we could find to run it. Who knows? They might even turn out to be the best people to run it under a different law. What’s important now is to remember that Santee Cooper needs to be operating under a different law.
Yes, individuals who are no longer there, who the bad management decisions to keep spending on two nuclear reactors even after their consultants warned that nuclear partner SCE&G wasn’t exercising the basic level of oversight that any rational person would expect a business to provide for the multibillion-dollar construction project.
If Santee Cooper had simply fulfilled its duty as a state agency to protect the public interest by notifying the Public Service Commission about the Bechtel report, regulators could have denied SCE&G’s rate increase requests, and the two utilities might have pulled the plug much earlier or gotten the project under control.
But those individuals were enabled by state laws, which make Santee Cooper an agency that answers to no one — except maybe the Legislature, and then only if the utility’s friends aren’t able to block reform legislation, as they have done since forever.
Not only is Santee Cooper exempt from PSC oversight, but the governor isn’t allowed to remove the board members (who are appointed by the governor) unless he can prove that they committed a crime or refused to show up for work or met a tiny list of other firing offenses — a list that does not include squandering $4 billion in ratepayers’ money on a power plant that will never produce a watt. That means — as we discovered in the wake of the V.C. Summer fiasco — that board members feel no compulsion even to inform the governor if the state is about to experience the biggest business disaster in its history.
That has to change, particularly now that the Legislature has spent $20 million to find that selling Santee Cooper to an investor-owned utility is not in the best interests of its customers, or of our state.
Santee Cooper operates in two worlds, without the necessary constraints to ensure it operates well in either world: It’s a state agency that doesn’t have to answer to any political power, and it’s a monopoly utility that doesn’t have to answer to regulators.
The Legislature needs to make the state agency politically accountable, by allowing the governor to remove his board appointees for any reason or no reason. And it needs to make the electric monopoly accountable to its captive consumers by giving the PSC direct or indirect control over rate increases and building plans. And that’s regardless of who happens to be the CEO at the moment.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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