It is all so tiring but doesn't have to be
We are tired.
We are tired of asking questions. We are tired of getting few answers. We are tired of being told all is well, corrective measures have been taken while, simultaneously, being dodged as we seek evidence pointing in that direction.
We are tired of attempts to portray this newspaper as being on a singular witch hunt to bring harm to the South Carolina Governor's School for Agriculture at John de la Howe when, in fact, we are exhaustively trying to ensure that state policies and procedures are being followed, that taxpayers' dollars are being properly spent and accounted for, that cronyism and favoritism do not - or no longer - exist within the school's operation. In short, we are fulfilling our government watchdog role on behalf of state taxpayers.
Really, much of the ink and newsprint that has been committed to stories about de la Howe could have been significantly reduced if its president, Tim Keown, and other key operatives associated with the campus would have answered some rather basic and straightforward questions and provided supporting documents.
We are tired, and we know Keown and others at de la Howe are as well. But we, they and taxpayers could rest easier if transparency were featured prominently in the school's code and mission.
Times and Democrat
Welcome steps toward protecting horseshoe crabs
April ended on a good note for those concerned about the health of South Carolina's horseshoe crab population - and also about the viability of the endangered red knot shorebirds that depend on the crabs' eggs for sustenance during their annual migration along our coast. But we need still more action from the state to put all our related concerns to rest.
First, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources decided not to issue a special permit to harvest horseshoe crabs in part of the ACE Basin, a pristine coastal habitat south of Charleston - a decision that never should have been in question but unfortunately was. Just days later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would not permit contractors for Charles River Labs to collect horseshoe crabs in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, another pristine habitat just north of Mount Pleasant.
The latter decision was especially welcome because protecting shorebirds is one of the main reasons that the Wildlife Refuge was established here in the first place. Two environmental groups had sued the Fish and Wildlife Service when it allowed harvesters to collect crabs there; a judge stopped the practice temporarily, and federal officials eventually decided to require permits for crab harvesting, ending the lawsuit. Just recently, the agency concluded that issuing such a permit would not be appropriate.
While both the state and federal steps were laudable and prudent, the state still needs to do more to distance our wildlife regulators from Charles River Labs, a pharmaceutical and animal breeding company that pays contractors to harvest crabs. The company bleeds the crabs to obtain a lucrative ingredient in an extract that can detect deadly toxins in vaccines and medical equipment. The main problem with this is that the state agency that regulates the company has no definitive data about whether crab harvesting has dipped below a sustainable level. While bled crabs are returned to the ocean, their survival rates are unclear, and the Department of Natural Resources doesn't even release information on how many horseshoe crabs are collected.
The other big problem is that DNR has an apparent conflict. Charles River Labs also leases Monkey Island from the agency, and its $1.5 million annual lease payments provide the agency with revenue to hire about 30 employees, creating at the very least the appearance of a conflict of interest - a conflict detailed thoroughly in The Post and Courier's Uncovered project, "Monkeys and Blood."
State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, has filed a bill that would require the DNR to release information about horseshoe crabs and other species, and while it's too late for S.1246 to pass this year, Campsen and other lawmakers should explore other vehicles for requiring DNR to compile and share more information.
We also need further action to address the conflict between DNR and Charles River stemming from the Monkey Island lease. The agency should not have to depend on a private company for a significant chunk of its operating revenue if it also is in charge of regulating a separate aspect of that company's work.
As we've noted before, crab harvesting along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has risen 63% since 2004, and crab populations are in decline off some Northeastern states. Horseshoe crab harvesting here has more than doubled since 2004, but only until we see better data about the health of horseshoe crabs in the state's waters can we form an educated opinion about whether the state is doing enough to protect them.
The Post and Courier
It's already too easy to addict kids to vaping. Bill would make it worse.
Over the weekend, a coalition of public health groups ran full-page ads in The Post and Courier and other S.C. newspapers warning against an effort in the state Senate to strip cities and counties of their right to do a job the Legislature refuses to do: regulating tobacco company efforts to addict teens.
The American Cancer Society, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and American Lung and Heart associations worry that the Senate will use the confusion of the final few days of the legislative session to pass H.3681, which would prohibit local governments from regulating cigarette, vape or other tobacco flavors or ingredients, and block these governments from requiring local licenses to sell tobacco products.
On its face, the bill appears long dead. Although the House passed it in 2021 and the Senate pulled it out of committee without so much as a public hearing, it's been stuck on the Senate contested calendar for more than a year. That's normally a sure sign of a bill that's going nowhere absent a compromise that all sides buy into. Normally, but not always.
Public health officials are concerned that the bill will suddenly be resurrected and passed this week. That might sound paranoid, but it's actually quite common for lawmakers to wait until the end of the session to try to sneak through legislation they know the public would oppose. Activists say they're hearing too much buzz about H.3681 to ignore. (And yes, we realize that it's popular for special-interest groups to claim to be under attack when they're really not in order to raise money, but the anti-tobacco advocates aren't trying to raise money; they've been at the Statehouse furiously working the Senate to prevent the legislation from being brought back to life.)
So while we hope any effort to sneak the legislation onto Gov. Henry McMaster's desk will fizzle - and that if it doesn't, he'll veto it - it's worth taking the time to explain what H.3681 is all about.
Its supporters say they want to ensure that tobacco laws are uniform across the state, but in fact they have fought efforts to have a uniform statewide law that would help enforce the law that prohibits tobacco use by minors. H.3754 would treat tobacco sales more like alcohol sales, requiring businesses to get a license to sell the products - and empowering the state to revoke those licenses if they don't guard against selling tobacco to minors. That's important because, according to the American Heart Association, three-quarters of kids who try to buy tobacco products succeed.
Tobacco companies have kept the tobacco licensing bill locked in subcommittee for two years because uniform tobacco laws isn't their goal. Their goal is to ensure that nothing is done in South Carolina to reduce sales of tobacco products - even products that are deliberately manipulated to entice children to use them.
South Carolina has one of the nation's highest rates of teen nicotine use, and vaping has powered an uptick in youth tobacco use nationally. The CDC says nearly all high school students who use tobacco products use flavored products, so that's why some local governments want to prohibit the sales of such products.
The vaping pre-emption bill also is the latest in a long string of bills to strip elected city and county council members of the right to govern their communities. Such bills start out with a leg up at the Statehouse regardless of the underlying topic because too many legislators believe they know more about what should happen in local communities than the people who are elected to govern those communities.
Either the assault on local governments or the assault on public health would be reason enough to let this legislation die when the Legislature adjourns Thursday. The combination of the two makes it nearly criminal that anyone would seriously consider pushing it into law.
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