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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County legislative delegations are again asserting their power over local school districts.

The Legislature so far this session has passed at least five school-related bills introduced by House or Senate members representing counties in which the affected school districts are located.

Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed all five bills – three of them on Monday – though lawmakers overrode the first two vetoes.

Until the mid-1970s, legislative delegations generally governed the counties they represented, including approving county budgets. The 1975 Home Rule Act was supposed to give counties more control over their own affairs, though it didn’t end lawmakers’ control over local school districts and certain other areas.

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BOISE, Idaho -- Stanton Healthcare has been part of the core team that is leading the way in passing legislation to ban abortions in the state of Idaho. Senate Bill 1309, which was just passed by the Idaho legislature, is extremely significant as it is modeled after the Texas law and has already withstood several federal court challenges, including not being blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court or the state of Texas' Supreme Court.

Stanton's Physician Assistant, Samantha Doty, testified before the Senate State Affairs Committee, and said the following:

"At Stanton we believe that abortion is wrong at any point in the pregnancy because from the moment of conception a uniquely distinct human being is created. Although our desire is to see abortions completely outlawed in the state of Idaho, we believe enacting SB 1309 would a huge step in the right direction."

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In announcing last month that the state is expected to receive more than $300 million from a national opioid settlement, S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson said the money will provide “much-needed financial resources which will help combat South Carolina’s opioid epidemic.”

What wasn’t mentioned then is that part of the proceeds will go to at least six law firms with ties to current or former state lawmakers, according to information provided to The Nerve by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

Of South Carolina’s $300 million-plus share of the total $26 billion national settlement, to be paid out over 18 years starting this year, at least $24 million, or 8% of the state’s proceeds, would be split among law firms representing the state, all 46 counties and 43 municipalities.

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More than three months after ignoring The Nerve’s written requests, the S.C. Judicial Department has released an updated salary list of state judges and other higher-paid court staff, which shows 141 employees making at least $100,000.

The third branch of state government responded to The Nerve only after the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – hired a law firm to press for the release of the records.

Under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the exact compensation of a public employee earning $50,000 or more year is a matter of public record. But unlike most other state agencies, the Judicial Department doesn’t provide salary information for its $50,000-plus workers to the online state salary database maintained by the S.C. Department of Administration.

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As South Carolina motorists over the past year have been paying more in state gasoline taxes – on top of skyrocketing gas prices – the surplus from revenues generated under the 2017 gas-tax-hike law jumped by nearly $300 million, records show.

As of Jan. 31, the cash balance of a special fund created with the law stood at $1.05 billion – $297.9 million, or about 40%, more than the total surplus a year earlier, according to state Department of Transportation and comptroller general records. The increase was $46 million greater compared to the previous annual growth in the reserves.

Looking at it another way, the current surplus equals about $260 for every driver with a regular South Carolina license.

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As of 2015, state Rep. Cezar McKnight owed a total of $60,190 in civil fines to the state Senate Ethics Committee after being publicly reprimanded for campaign reporting violations when he was a Senate candidate.

To date, only $1,039.12 of his debt has been collected, according to committee records.

In a recent interview with The Nerve, McKnight, D-Williamsburg, an attorney who has been a House member since 2014, said he doesn’t know exactly how much he still owes.

“I’m working on trying to find a way to get this resolved because I think it’s unfair,” he said. “I’m actively trying to get redress of my grievances.”

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The S.C. Department of Commerce hasn’t committed to any projects with most of the $150 million in state surplus funds that the agency wants to spend next fiscal year for a new “infrastructure” program, the department’s director told budget writers recently.

Yet Commerce secretary Harry Lightsey, whom Gov. Henry McMaster appointed last June, disclosed to a state House Ways and Means panel that approximately $80 million of the proposed $150 million could be used in part for a Myrtle Beach project tied to internet search giant Google, and another project involving an automotive test track at a publicly owned business park near Greenville.

He also discussed two other projects totaling about $70 million that would benefit corporate giants Boeing and Volvo, the details of which were revealed by The Nerve before the Feb. 1 Ways and Means Economic Development Subcommittee hearing.

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Tabitha Walter and Kirsten Hasler, Eagle Forum D.C. team.
Tabitha Walter and Kirsten Hasler, Eagle Forum D.C. team.

This year promises to hold seismic shifts in the cultural, spiritual, and legal battles over abortion, so let us prepare to face these challenges with prudence, courage, and faith.

The most consequential Pro-Life development of last year was the Supreme Court of the United States agreeing to hear arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson case. This case could be the vehicle to overturn or drastically reign in the two most deadly rulings in our country’s history: Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The second development is the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act, which has saved thousands of preborn lives already, and has served as a beacon of light for how our country can move into a post-Roe era.

Is Roe Finally Over?

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, who is an ex-S.C. House member, owes a total of $11,500 in civil fines to the state House Ethics Committee for campaign reporting violations related to her former position, according to the committee’s top lawyer.

The total includes a $600 fine for the late filing of a campaign report due last month, Jane Shuler, the committee’s chief legal counsel, said in a written response this week to The Nerve’s questions about Mace’s fines.

An online list of House Ethics Committee fines, which was last updated in December, shows that Mace was separately fined $5,100 last year for the late filing of campaign reports due in January and April, plus another $700 for the late filing of a report due in July.

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As expected, the Horry County legislative delegation last week nominated former House member Alan Clemmons as the county’s master-in-equity judge.

But House and Senate members who make up the delegation didn’t  nominate Clemmons –  who had been a longtime delegation member – during a public meeting in Horry County as initially scheduled. Instead, they did it secretly while in session in Columbia, with most of them signing a circulated letter that was sent to Gov. Henry McMaster, who will decide whether to appoint Clemmons to the six-year, six-figure seat.

Clemmons’ predecessor made $188,873 annually.

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The South Carolina House of Representatives made some key amendments to Speaker Lucas's bill H.3444 and sent it back to the South Carolina Senate.

Here's the big points:

  • Require all county election commissions fall under the State Election Commission. This is important because it requires all counties execute elections the same way. So voters in Lancaster County know their votes are being handled the same way was votes in Beaufort County.
  • Bans "drop boxes" for ballots
  • Continues to require the State Election Commission to conduct post-election audits and expand the different audit methods (including but not limited to: risk-limiting; hand-counts; third party vendor & ballot reconciliation) for all elections in the state. The conduct and result of ANY audit must be published on the Commission’s website upon completion.
  • Requires that State Election Commission to report to the S.C. Attorney General or other appropriate law enforcement agency, any violation of state election laws
  • Prohibits any county board of elections from accepting or expending private funds to conduct elections–like Facebook or the ACLU.
  • Requires that a person may only vote in the last place that they registered to vote and that the act of registering or voting in a new location is evidence of intent to change domicile for purposes of voting.
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Last Friday, President Joe Biden visited Pittsburgh to tout his $1 trillion infrastructure law – just hours after a 50-year-old bridge there collapsed while a municipal bus and several cars were on it, resulting in injuries though no deaths.

In South Carolina, the S.C. Department of Transportation has identified 465 out of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges statewide to be replaced. But through December, DOT had completed only three bridge projects with more than $2.3 billion in revenues collected under the 2017 gas-tax-hike law, recently released agency records show.

And the number of finished projects, as well as the total number of bridge projects (16) identified by DOT to be completed with gas-tax-hike revenues, hasn’t changed since last May 31, as The Nerve first revealed in July. Of the $2.32 billion in collected revenues through Dec. 31, just $18.1 million, or less than 1% of the total, was designated for “additional” bridge projects.

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