McMaster Funding

"Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a resounding victory for the Constitution and for those who have worked for so many years to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us. By the end of the day, we will file motions so that the Fetal Heartbeat Act will go into effect in South Carolina and immediately begin working with members of the General Assembly to determine the best solution for protecting the lives of unborn South Carolinians."

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SC Voters Back School Choice Bill 2020

SC residents generally support using public money to allow children to attend private schools, a South Carolina Policy Council poll shows – and a key negotiator on a related school-choice bill says he’s pushing to get it passed.

It remains to be seen whether the Republican-dominated, 46-member Senate will give final approval to the compromise bill – known as the “Put Parents in Charge Act” – when the Legislature reconvenes Tuesday.

But Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, an attorney who is the Senate Education Committee chairman and a member of the conference committee on the Senate bill, said he’s working with other “legal minds” in the Legislature to find a way.

“It’s not going away; we’re not quitting,” Hembree said when contacted by The Nerve last week after the bill stalled in the Senate. “We are razor close.”

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Just days before a legislative conference committee approved a compromise tax-cut bill, South Carolinians expressed strong support for tax relief in a poll released by the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization.

Contacted last week by The Nerve before the deal was announced, several senators who co-sponsored the original bill were asked about their views on the poll results and the legislation. A Democratic senator recommended, for example, that part of the state’s massive surplus be used to cut corporate income taxes to attract companies to small counties that have lost population.

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The Biden administration and Democratic-controlled U.S. House collectively have been focusing on local municipalities, publicly traded companies and private retirement plans to promote the environmental, social and governance movement that is popular among liberal groups, records show.

Republican state and federal officials in South Carolina are opposing those efforts, contending, among other things, that mandating ESG factors will hurt taxpayers, businesses and individuals financially.

Critics say ESG scores are being used by banks, investment and accounting firms, and credit rating agencies to grade companies on how well they have adopted certain liberal values or policies, such as reducing the effects of climate change, increasing diversity on their governing boards, and supporting social justice causes.

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Two major investment management firms that handle a large chunk of South Carolina’s pension plan for state retirees are big proponents of the controversial environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement, The Nerve found in a review of pension and other records.

Of the approximately $39 billion market value of all investments by the pension plan at the end of last fiscal year, about $18.5 billion, or nearly half of the total, was managed by two of the world’s largest asset managers – New York-based BlackRock and Boston-based State Street Corporation, pension records show.

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In a letter last year to Cromer Food Services, one of the Anderson-based company’s hundreds of customers – a foreign-headquartered corporation – said it was drafting a “Business Partner Code of Conduct that expresses all our essential requirements for sustainable cooperation.”

The letter asked the company to complete a questionnaire as “one of the methods of ensuring compliance with the standards” – which included broad categories of “social responsibility” and “environmental protection and resource conservation.”

“We have started to get feelers – nothing required as of yet – questionnaires sent to us from companies asking us what our demographics are, what our environmental impact is, what we are doing to lower our environmental impact – all the things you find in an ESG score,” Cromer president Brent Cromer said in a recent interview with The Nerve.

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If Disney didn't know conservatives meant business, they do now. Four weeks into this national drama between Florida and CEO Bob Chapek, state leaders aren't just speaking out -- they're hitting back. After years of sitting down and taking it when corporate bullies stick their noses in social issues, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is finally making an example out of a company that took their war against parents too far. And to most Americans, who are sick of having their values mocked and shamed by Big Business, it's about time.

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Five days after Kentucky’s Democrat Governor Andy Beshear vetoed the most protective pro-life bill in the country, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature overturned it. The state’s house voted 76-21 on Wednesday and the state’s senate followed later the same day, voting 31-6, to quash his veto.

The override allowed the law to become effective immediately, with Reuters declaring that it “makes Kentucky the first U.S. state without legal abortion access since the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade established [a mother’s] right to end a pregnancy.”

The law models the Mississippi abortion law that is pending before the Supreme Court — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The high court will rule on “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional” with its decision due in June.

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Imagine a small business applying for a bank loan and being rejected despite having an excellent credit rating and strong revenues.

The reason? Its “ESG” score was too low.

If you’ve never heard of ESG, you’re probably not alone. But the corporate and financial worlds are well-acquainted with it.

ESG stands for “environmental, social and governance.” Although there’s no single accepted national standard for determining ESG scores, critics contend the scoring routinely is used to rate companies on whether they have adopted certain liberal values or policies, such as reducing the effects of climate change, increasing diversity on their governing boards, and supporting social justice causes.

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Gov. Henry McMaster reported a collective $64,130 in gifts and covered trip expenses last year – more than half of the total funded by the Republican Governors Association, The Nerve found in a review of his latest income-disclosure report.

McMaster in 2021 received 116 gifts totaling $31,955, ranging from a $5 magazine to a $15,000 painting, according to his statement of economic interests (SEI) filed March 30 with the State Ethics Commission. In comparison, McMaster reported receiving a total of $87,695 in gifts from 2017 through 2020, as The Nerve revealed last year.

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Of the more than $1 billion in state and federal funding provided to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to combat the coronavirus outbreak that hit South Carolina two years ago, nearly half of it remained unspent through February, The Nerve found in a review of agency records.

In documents submitted by DHEC at last week’s meeting of the state Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC) – a 10-member legislative panel chaired by Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter – the agency said that as of Feb. 28, it had spent a total of $636.3 million, including $333.3 million on testing, $134.3 million for personnel costs, $68.3 million on vaccination efforts, and $33.7 million for contact tracing.

As of April 2, confirmed COVID-19 deaths and cases statewide since the start of the pandemic totaled 15,045 and 1.1 million, respectively, according to DHEC records.

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Two S.C. House bills that would temporarily suspend the state gasoline tax are moving about as fast as the rate of fixing South Carolina’s deteriorating roads and bridges.

Meanwhile, the surplus in a special fund created with the 2017 gas-tax-hike law continues to grow, standing at more than $1 billion through February, which represented nearly 45% of all revenues collected since the law took effect.

The law raised the state gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon over six years – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – and increased other vehicle taxes and fees. The next 2-cent increase under the law is set to take effect July 1.

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The state’s top court next week will consider whether S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson could legally pay two private law firms – one of which he formerly worked at – $75 million out of a $600 million settlement with the federal government over plutonium storage in South Carolina.

“That’s money that should be and is the property of the state of South Carolina,” said Greenville attorney Jim Carpenter, one of the lawyers who represent the plaintiffs in the case, when contacted Thursday by The Nerve. “It’s not the attorney general’s money to dole out.”

Carpenter represents longtime government activist John Crangle of Columbia and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation, a not-for-profit organization in Greenville County known over the years for suing state and local government on behalf of citizens.

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Under state court rules, judges must avoid even the “appearance of impropriety” in all of their activities, and “minimize the risk of conflict” with their official duties.

Citizens, however, typically have no easy way of determining whether the income sources of many South Carolina judges or their immediate family members pose potential conflicts of interest when those judges are hearing court cases. That’s partly because unlike for other public officials, state law exempts most judges from filing annual income-disclosure statements with the State Ethics Commission.

And judges also are exempted from having their annual taxpayer-funded incomes listed in the online salary database for state employees making at least $50,000 yearly.

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When the state is flush with taxpayer money, lawmakers can’t resist the urge to create new agencies.

Last week, Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and three other Democratic senators introduced a bill that would create a state agency to serve a group of rural counties, called the “I-95 Corridor Authority,” which would “carry out economic development, health and educational improvement activities which, in the opinion of the authority, will improve the economic conditions in its member counties and are located in a member county or an adjacent census tract.”

A companion House bill, sponsored by Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, and 15 other Democratic House members, was introduced last month.

In both bills, the authority would be legislatively controlled, with eight of its 13 board of director members appointed by lawmakers whose districts include the member counties, and the other five members selected by the governor.

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Another legislative study, another likely six-figure taxpayer bill at the end.

Last week, the “Electricity Market Reform Measures Study Committee,” which was created by state law in 2020, met virtually for the first time with a team of hired consultants with the Boston-based Brattle Group.

Under its contract with the eight-member committee, co-chaired by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, Brattle will receive a maximum $750,000 for “labor and non-labor fees and expenses,” with the possibility of being paid more if authorized by the committee.

Hourly consulting fees range from $250 for a research analyst to $625 for a principal in the firm, according to the contract, provided last week to The Nerve by Senate clerk Jeff Gossett under the state Freedom of Information Act.

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