Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier on gun violence in the state:
It should have been evident to any South Carolinian even before Gov. Nikki Haley made it the central theme of her State of the State address on Jan. 20. South Carolina has emerged as a different state after last year.
In 2015, gun violence in South Carolina drew international attention. In June, nine people were murdered during a Bible study at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church with a gun that the accused killer should not have been allowed to purchase.
The death of the Emanuel Nine led to the governor calling for, and the Legislature approving, the removal of the Confederate flag from the front of the Statehouse. That was a truly significant achievement, though one that should have happened years sooner.
But lawmakers cannot rest on their laurels. The toll of South Carolina's gun violence extends far beyond a single, terrible tragedy. And there are simple, needed legislative measures that could greatly reduce the chance that the state's most violent or unstable residents get their hands on deadly weapons.
As reported in an investigative package of stories starting on today's front page, "S.C. confronts gun violence," at least 34 bills in the General Assembly address crucial weaknesses in the state's gun laws.
Several pieces of legislation specifically focus on eliminating the so-called "Charleston loophole" that allowed accused Emanauel AME killer Dylann Roof to purchase that gun.
Mr. Roof should have been barred from buying a firearm after a felony drug charge was made against him a few months before he bought the gun. But a communications mix-up between state and federal agencies failed to raise red flags before the three-day maximum background check waiting period expired.
Eliminating that three-day maximum and requiring a completed process for all gun purchases is an obvious step to ensure that background checks serve their intended purpose. And it has overwhelming backing from S.C. residents.
A Winthrop University poll in October found that 80 percent of South Carolinians surveyed support requiring gun buyers to wait until a background check is completed before taking possession of the firearm, even if it takes longer than the current three-day maximum waiting period.
Other bills currently on the table would add tiered penalties for multiple gun offenses, require gun buyers to register new weapons with the State Law Enforcement Division, add assault weapons to the list of firearms banned by the state and require gun owners and dealers to immediately report thefts to law enforcement, among other proposals.
Those ideas warrant discussion. Strengthening the state's background check laws should be a legislative priority.
But while the killing of the Emanuel Nine was a horrendous outlier in the scale of its violence, gun deaths are all too common in our state. In 2014, the last year for which statistics are available, more than 700 South Carolinians lost their lives to guns.
Nearly two-thirds of those deaths were suicides. That tragic statistic also reveals the importance of making better access to mental health care a priority in addition to — not instead of — serious gun reforms.
Bills to close loopholes or subject more gun sales to background checks do not erode the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Bills to strengthen penalties for illegal gun possession or require stolen guns to be reported to law enforcement do not flout the Second Amendment's protection of the freedom to bear arms.
Rather they will help protect South Carolinians from both horrific atrocities like the Emanuel shooting and from the less visible losses that impact families across the state each day.
There has never been a more appropriate time to address gun violence in South Carolina. State lawmakers must seize this opportunity.
The Times and Democrat on road repairs in the state:
On the surface, South Carolina residents should be happy with the course of the debate in Columbia about fixing the state's roads.
Gov. Nikki Haley is pushing a plan to spend $345 million in fiscal 2016-17 on repairing infrastructure, with a key component of funding being a 10-cent increase in the state's gasoline tax of 16.75 cents a gallon.
But the governor is again tying the tax increase and money for roads to a corresponding decrease in state income taxes.
The Legislature appears to be on the same track, with legislation to fix roads presently being front and center in the Senate after the body's failure to pass legislation in 2015. The House has already approved legislation designating up to $400 million per year for road repairs and making about $50 million in cuts in income taxes.
In the Senate there is sentiment to move forward and approve a gas tax increase, but to gain the upper chamber's OK, there will have to be approval of some kind of tax cut to prevent delaying the plan or derailing it altogether. And senators are keenly aware there is the promise of a gubernatorial veto if there is a gas tax hike with no tax reductions.
Thus the prospects are road repairs that the state's residents are demanding, a gas tax increase that South Carolinians say they support and lower income taxes, at least for some. Add to the "happiness" factor the estimates that a third of the money for roads raised by an elevated gas tax will come from out-of-state residents and what's not to like?
Here's our list:
. Stalling the legislation in arguments over reforms at the S.C. Department of Transportation, most notably the big question of transferring oversight of the giant agency to the governor.
Ironing out the DOT future — and further increasing gubernatorial power — does not have to be accomplished in the context of legislation that earmarks new gas tax money and other funds specifically to repairing existing roads.
. The equity factor. A gasoline tax increase and a plan to spend up to $400 million on roads seem paltry against a reduction in income taxes that under the governor's plan could cost the state $1.8 billion. The state's poorest residents would be hit hardest because they would pay more in taxes in purchasing necessary gasoline and receive no tax reduction.
. The $400 million for roads is not nearly enough. Orangeburg Sen. Brad Hutto is pushing for up to $800 million a year. The final number may end up somewhere between, leaving the funding at about half of the $1.2 billion that SCDOT says is needed for repaving, bridge work and widening to get the state's roads and bridges to good condition.
. The governor's plan focuses on repairing the most heavily traveled roads and bridges. While that is a sensible approach in priorities, underfunding the road-repair plan means rural counties will be waiting a very long time for infrastructure improvements.
. Proposals to use all or most of an additional $1.2 billion in revenue available to the state for road repairs in lieu of an increase in the gas tax. Priorities that must be addressed with the same money include court-mandated improvements in education and flood relief, particularly for farmers who lost nearly their entire crop from summer drought and October's flooding.
Getting a plan in place and moving quickly on road repairs in South Carolina are being demanded by state residents. Lawmakers should be listening, particularly in an election year. No one is excited about paying more taxes but there appears to be little doubt that state residents are willing to do just that with the gasoline tax if the money can yield improvements. Further delays put South Carolinians in danger every day and put lawmakers' political futures at risk as well.
The Aiken Standard on teaching the arts in schools:
As the strains of the Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra's Ludwig van Beethoven's "Egmont Overture" wafted over the audience of the Etherredge Center at USC Aiken last week, the audience, both trained and untrained ears, enjoyed a cultural experience many communities our size don't enjoy. We are fortunate in Aiken to have this type of musical experience available to us. This year alone, patrons of the series have enjoyed the eclectic mix of Trio Virado, An Evening with Groucho and Dallas Brass.
Coming up in the next two months are The Wonderful Wizard of Song, the music of Harold Allen, and Caladh Nua, traditional Irish Folk Music.
In addition to the USCA Cultural Series, the Aiken community has a wide variety of arts experiences available. Whether you frequent the Aiken Community Playhouse, the Aiken County Band's concerts, the newly formed Aiken Orchestra concerts, Joye in Aiken (formerly Juilliard in Aiken), attend the Hopelands Gardens Summer Concert Series, walk through the Aiken Center for the Arts, take an art class or attend your child or grandchild's choral or band concert or dance recital, the arts are an important part of life here in Aiken.
STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, is heard about on a daily basis as a focus in the Aiken schools, as it should be, but an up-and-coming movement incorporates the arts into our children's education, called STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Studies have proven that with the arts incorporated into the traditional STEM education, students thrive.
According to research compiled by the University of Florida, students who engage in music education often perform better at math tasks. The University of Florida study also showed that "on average, students who study the arts for four years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less" and that "students who took up music appreciation scored 61 points higher on the verbal section and 42 points higher on the math section. "Any middle or high school band director can affirm that top students also are often gifted in math and science.
A visit to East Aiken School of the Arts proves that incorporating the arts into education can result in engaged, excited students who love to learn. Continuing that focus and expanding to other schools will only benefit our children. Supporting the arts in all of our schools, beginning with elementary school and throughout middle and high school, will create engaged, confident students. The arts feed the souls of many of us, and our children should be exposed to this at a young age. It is something that will benefit them their whole lives.
We are fortunate in Aiken. We have many choices. These include the visual arts, dance and music. Creating well-rounded, multifaceted students who appreciate the arts and incorporating that into their overall education will benefit us all.