Time is ripe for domestic violence change
But will General Assembly talk it to death ... again?
By Bill Davis, senior editorNOV. 21, 2014 -- The S.C. General Assembly again finds itself at a familiar crossroads facing an important issue, this time domestic violence: improve the system or do nothing after holding lots of hearings.
According to a report released this fall from the Violence Policy Center, a national watchdog, South Carolina ranks second in the country in per capita homicides of women at the hands of men. The Palmetto State, once in the number one position, now trails Alaska.
A Winthrop Poll released Wednesday found that nearly 60 percent of all in-state respondents said government did not do enough to combat domestic violence. And now, members of the House and Senate are putting in out-of-session work to develop bills to introduce bills in January to combat the problem.
Seen it all before
Vicki Bourus, the current co-executive director of the Family Justice Center of Georgetown, is underwhelmed, because she says she’s seen it all before.
“Here’s the deal: over the last 15 years, I’ve seen flurries of activity on this, and they’re mainly connected to major media outlets exposés on criminal domestic violence,” said Bourus, the former executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Most recently, The (Charleston) Post and Courier newspaper released a series on domestic violence with such compelling stories from victims that Bourus believes it forced former House Speaker Bobby Harrell to put together an ad hoc study committee supported by three subcommittees.
But years ago, there was a similar series in The (Columbia) State newspaper that spurred an analogous effort. A joint House-Senate committee was formed and hours were spent studying the issue. And the result?
Not much, according to Bourus, who points that when a state like South Carolina “stays in the top 10 on lists like this for as many years as we have, it shows there has never been a real, consistent, committed effort to address domestic violence in a comprehensive way” the issue of domestic violence.
What happened in the past
Back then, state Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) and state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) co-chaired the joint commission. Both admitted Thursday that little from their recommendations, beyond a handful dealing with restraining orders and threats, made it into law.
“There has always tended to be lots of ‘study’ and that’s about all is done, with very little ‘action,’” said Cobb-Hunter, who hopes public and media attention this time around has focused the issue in the legislature.
These days, Martin chairs the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, and plans to pre-file a bill before the beginning of the January session, as well as assign a “pretty strong” subcommittee to the bill. Cobb-Hunter is part of the ongoing ad hoc committee in the House.
Martin, having met with state Attorney General Alan Wilson, said he has not finished his bill, but that it has several areas already formed. Perhaps the most important section would create a three tiers of offenses, much like those seen in other felonies and misdemeanors.
What about guns?
Another would require those convicted of higher degrees of criminal domestic violence to “separate themselves from their firearms.”
Responding to the criticism that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” Martin is sanguine: “The preferred manner of killing someone in this country is with a gun; that has been borne out in statistics up one side and down the other.”
While asking criminals to turn in their weapons sounds like a step in the right direction, according to Bourus, it creates other problems.
Instead of having law enforcement removing the guns immediately, they will be present in the home, potentially a threat to women and children, for the months it takes to adjudicate a charge, she said. Additionally, it requires a criminal to become a law-abiding citizen, she said.
Cognizant of the strongly-held Second Amendment positions in the state, Martin said it would be problematic for law enforcement to be seen going into private homes to confiscate weapons. Additionally, he said it could put law enforcement agents and officers in undue danger.
When asked if he were more interested in protecting the health and safety of women or of police officers, possibly armed and wearing bulletproof vests, Martin said he was interested in a bill that could get passed and make it safer for everyone.
Martin said that “lots of hot-headed” people convicted of a domestic violence offense “may very well gladly separate” themselves from their firearms if faced with another, potentially more serious, criminal sentence.
On Thursday, Wilson appeared before a subcommittee chaired by attorney Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston). Like Martin, McCoy liked what he heard from Wilson on instituting degrees of offenses, which carry mandatory jail and prison sentences.
McCoy pointed out that the higher the offense, the more that the perpetrator would be required by existing state law to turnover their firearms.
Despite the current “flurries” of action, Bourus remains underwhelmed. She sees an ongoing leadership void starting in Gov. Nikki Haley’s office. Bourus said the voice continues through Wilson, whom she says hasn’t shown the interest in combating domestic violence that his predecessor, Lt. Gov.-elect Henry McMaster, had.
“I’ve been working with domestic violence in this state since 1987, and have not been encouraged by this particular state,” she said. “We’ve made a little bit of progress over the past decades, but there is so much left to be done.”
Bill Davis is senior editor of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RECENT NEWS STORIES
Dried sunflowers, Florence County, S.C.
Dried sunflower stalks like the field in front an old barn in rural Florence County, S.C., in this photo taken by Kingstree photographer Linda W. Brown. More photos: Center for a Better South.
A promising opportunity for a poor part of the state
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherNOV. 21, 2014 -- Imagine if there were some kind of program -- a little something extra -- that could give pervasively poor places a better chance so they could be more like most of America.
Imagine how such a program could create better job opportunities to stabilize family finances, reduce crime to make communities safer and improve education so children could expand economic mobility.
In January 2013, President Obama announced a pragmatic effort to help overlooked places in America. In his State of the Union address, Obama said he would designate 20 “Promise Zones” -- special urban, rural and tribal communities where the federal government would partner with communities to make life better.
What’s smart about this effort is how it doesn’t drop a big pot of money on poor communities. Instead they have to come up with real plans on how to fix things. Then they can apply for federal help through existing grant programs. But the bonus: communities that get the designation will get human capital -- trained federal workers who will help make applications for existing grant money to grow jobs, reduce crime or improve education. For these regions with low tax bases, that’s practical help. Next, the Promise Zone communities get a few extra points when an application is scored -- a little bump because they’re persistently poor areas with a lot of challenges. That’s smart, too, because it gives these areas a realistic chance to compete for funding, instead of always being on the short end of the stick because they’re small and often forgotten.
Today, South Carolina’s poorest region applied for a Promise Zone designation. The Southern Carolina Alliance (SCA), an economic development nonprofit that covers Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, is leading an effort to secure the designation for just over 90,000 people in this southern tip of the Palmetto State.
In this area west of Interstate 95, the poverty rate is 28.2 percent, including one sector with a poverty rate just shy of 50 percent of residents. Unemployment is 14.8 percent -- more than twice the state average. Crime rates are too high. The schooling that most kids get is substandard, recognized just last week by the state Supreme Court in a long-awaited landmark case on inequitable school funding.
As part of the Southern Carolina Promise Zone application, the SCA, in coordination with the counties, nonprofits and private entities, proposes to energize job growth strategies that would help small farmers grow foods to be sold in the state’s metropolitan areas and keep hundreds of millions of dollars spent on food in the Palmetto State. Some 90 percent of the $10 billion in food we buy in South Carolina goes out of state.
Other job growth strategies call for special attention to agribusiness, such as food processing plants; creation of construction jobs by rehabilitating poor housing and building more affordable housing units; growing green-related jobs through a program to upfit homes to allow residents to save on energy costs and implementing a proven program to boost financial stability of low-income families. Also proposed: a revolving loan fund to generate more small businesses; education measures for more job training to expand skill sets; scholarship programs; early reading help; more prosecutors to curb career criminals and gang activity; and a peer victim advocate program in local schools.
SCA leader Danny Black says his group wants the region to be named a Promise Zone because it’s just plain good for areas that have been ignored for far too long.
“It’s the correct area of the Southeast to do something like this because we are hurting in all of the areas that they want to touch,” he said. “It’s something that allows us to bring quality of life issues and economic opportunities to a part of the state that really needs it.”
Tim Ervolina, head of the United Way Association of South Carolina, said his organization is excited about the possibility of a Promise Zone in the Southern Carolina area.
“It's not just about the additional resources,” he said. “It's about the opportunity to use those resources to build lasting community infrastructure which can bring sustainable change.”
Indeed. It’s about time. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
ACLU of South Carolina
The public spiritedness of our underwriters allows us to bring Statehouse Report to you at no cost. This week's spotlighted underwriter is the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of South Carolina’s National Office in Charleston is dedicated to preserving the civil liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Through communications, lobbying and litigation, the ACLU South Carolina’s National Office works to preserve and enhance the rights of all citizens of South Carolina. Foremost among these rights are freedom of speech and religion, the right to equal treatment under law, and the right to privacy.
Health care help is available
signupSC is new program with certified navigators, counselors
By Steve Skardon and Shelli Quenga
Special to Statehouse Report
NOV. 21, 2014 -- South Carolinians seeking health insurance under the Affordable Care Act now can access immediate in-person, online and over-the-phone assistance from a new statewide network of certified insurance navigators and application counselors
The Palmetto Project’s signupSC network formally opened Saturday to assist residents in all 46 counties in securing affordable insurance policies through the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace. The network also provides information and support for small businesses applying for group coverage and families with young children in applying to SC Healthy Connections (Medicaid).
Call toll free: 1-888-998-4646. You will be able to speak directly to a certified navigator.
Visit us online: http://www.signupsc.com
The current three-month open enrollment period runs through Feb. 15. Individuals seeking coverage for January need to have finished their selection process by Dec. 15.
While many people may use the federal health care website to directly choose a plan that works best for them, signupSC is a helpful tool to provide the help of an actual person with appropriate training for those with questions and unique concerns. What’s important about that, too, is that if technical glitches occur with the federal website, we can help those eligible to apply and get coverage.
Individuals. The most important piece of advice we give people before they start to select a plan is that they have a list of their specific medical needs. Every plan does not fit the needs of every person. The amount of the monthly premium is only one of a number of factors contributing to the selection of a plan. Customers need to consider, for example, which prescriptions and services are covered and where service providers in a plan are located.
Up to 350,000 South Carolinians are eligible to buy insurance in the federal marketplace this year. Of that number, more than 118,000 selected policies during the first open enrollment period and will need to renew those existing policies or select new ones. An uninsured individual seeking coverage in the marketplace must have or expect to have a taxable income of at least $11,670, with subsidies and tax advantages phasing out at $46,680, but up to $95,000 for a family of four.
The signupSC network includes navigators who are specialists in helping underserved populations with unique barriers to accessing care. These include people with disabilities and others with pre-existing conditions like HIV/AIDS. The network also provides Spanish-speaking navigators and translation services to those for whom English is not a primary language.
SignupSC navigators can also assist applicants in determining likely subsidies and tax benefits which will make the monthly premiums even more affordable, she said. Last year, nearly nine out of 10 consumers were eligible for substantial financial assistance to pay premiums, co-pays and deductibles. Navigators are also empowered to assist customers who have complaints with their insurance carriers.
Small businesses. This year, the Affordable Care Act is expanding participation of eligible customers to include small businesses with less than 50 employees seeking affordable group coverage. SignupSC has navigators available to assist customers in using the Small Business Health Care Options Program (SHOP Marketplace) to compare and select plans.
SHOP gives every small business owner the opportunity to comparison shop among the plans offered by insurers in South Carolina. Many business owners are very surprised at the savings available based on their older plans.
Medicaid. South Carolina Healthy Connections (Medicaid) is state-run, mostly federally-financed health insurance for children, pregnant women and disabled adults. In most cases, healthy, childless adults living in South Carolina are not eligible for comprehensive Medicaid benefits.
However, all adults with incomes below 194 percent of the federal poverty level ($22,640/year for a single adult) are eligible for SC Healthy Connections Checkup, an expansion of the Family Planning coverage. This new program will still cover family planning services, but now also will cover a biennial physical and age-related health screenings.
The only way to qualify for checkup is to apply for Medicaid and be denied full coverage. At the Palmetto Project, we recommend that people in this income group do this not only for the preventive services but as proof that they tried to get coverage and therefore not required to pay a penalty on their taxes for failing to get insurance. Furthermore, should an individual’s income increase during 2015 to a level at which Marketplace coverage would be an option, the consumer must show proof of the attempt to enroll in order to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to get insurance outside of the Open Enrollment period.
Additional resources. Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout the state have on-site certified application counselors also ready to assist any local resident in applying for insurance. The Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce is providing similar navigation services in Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Allendale, Barnwell and parts of Charleston County (843-986-1102).
- To learn more about enrollment events and our partners with the signupSC network, click here.
Steve Skardon is executive director of the nonprofit Palmetto Project, where Shelli Quenga is director of projects. She also serves as statewide coordinator for the signupSC network.
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Three up, two in middle
Gay marriage. With the Supreme Court of the United States rejecting an emergency plea from the state to be allowed to continue to block gay marriage, citizens of South Carolina have become a little more equal. But don’t think South Carolina has caught up with the rest of the country. Marijuana is still illegal. As is contraception. And evolution. More.
India. Critics complaining that Gov. Nikki Haley’s visit to India is more personal than political need to remember three things. One, she is courting one of the largest economies in the world. Two, she didn’t take the state plane. And three, it ain’t Argentina. More.
DEW. A few years ago the state’s unemployment office was destitute, mismanaged and a major laughingstock. This week, it met federal requirements that will mean a reduction in payments for businesses and it’s paid back more than 70 percent of the nearly $1-billion federal loan it took a few years back. Nice. More.
Wilson. It’s great that state Attorney General Alan Wilson wants to stiffen domestic violence penalties. How about if everyone, from the governor through family court judges, gets on the same page, too? See main story above | more
Immigration. President Obama’s executive order on immigration policy could only affect 3 percent of the state’s workforce. But it has rankled Congressman Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) who, without a hint of irony, criticized the president for his lack of “cooperation.” More.