South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, July 16, 2021


The (Charleston) Post and Courier

July 11

Don't weaken one of S.C.'s few workable anti-DUI laws

South Carolina ranks in the top 10 in U.S. drunken driving deaths, even though 22 states have more people than we do. A third of the people who die on our highways are killed by drunken drivers. The results are similar by pretty much any measure, a predictable result of the Legislature's anemic efforts to deter drunken driving.

Our legislators (or at least our House members) have refused to embrace the widespread use of ignition interlock devices - a miracle technology that has been proven in 34 states to prevent drunken driving by people previously convicted of DUI, by making it impossible to start their cars if they've been drinking.

Lawmakers have refused to close the loopholes that render practically unenforceable our law that prohibits driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. They've maintained laws that make it easy for people convicted of DUI to get back behind the wheel immediately and that encourage people to refuse a DUI test and thus make a conviction more difficult even under an older DUI statute.

They've even refused to require people who serve alcohol in bars and restaurants to complete a training course so they can better identify underage and overly intoxicated customers and cut them off.

The one bright spot in our efforts to prevent you and your children and neighbors from getting killed or maimed by a drunken driver has been the civil justice system: If a bartender keeps selling drinks to an obviously impaired patron who leaves the bar and kills someone, the bar can be liable for damages. Ditto a convenience store or grocery store that sells alcohol to a minor or someone who's clearly impaired.

Unlike 30 other states, we don't have a law that specifically allows these so-called "dram shop" lawsuits, but our courts have recognized them under the common-law theory that establishments should realize it when a patron could harm someone. And under a 2005 state law, a business that sells alcohol can be ordered to pay the entire cost of a multimillion-dollar damage award even if a jury finds that other parties shared responsibility.

The threat that a business might have to pay out huge awards if it's too reckless about selling alcohol has produced some modest improvement in behavior, with some bars and restaurants voluntarily requiring server training. Of course, it's not enough. And now, there appears to be an effort to take away that motivator.

No legislation has been filed to limit the legal liability of businesses that sell alcohol, but The Post and Courier's Jamie Lovegrove reports that an outspoken advocate of changing the 2005 law was a featured speaker last month at a "Tort Reform Summit" held in the Columbia office of the lobbyist for that advocate, Greg Parker. Mr. Parker threatened earlier this year to pull his Georgia-based Parker's Kitchen convenience store chain out of South Carolina if the Legislature didn't change the law to reduce the damages his and other companies may face for irresponsible or illegal alcohol sales. That threat came as his company faces a wrongful death lawsuit over the notorious 2019 boating accident that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach; the lawsuit alleges that the boat's driver, then-19-year-old Paul Murdaugh, illegally bought alcohol at one of his stores.

A lot is murky about the breadth and support for the lobbying effort, because Mr. Lovegrove was barred from attending the summit, and participants are vague about their strategy. A bill proposed by one of the state's most powerful legislators, Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey, would change how liability is distributed in cases that don't involve alcohol; S.145 would leave the law in place that treats alcohol-related lawsuits differently, but Mr. Massey said he expects there will be efforts to include the change Mr. Parker wants.

Precisely the best way to allocate liability among multiple defendants is murky as well. Businesses say South Carolina's current law can unfairly force any deep-pocketed defendants - not just those that sell alcohol - to pay more than their fair share of the damages. Plaintiff's lawyers, on the other hand, say that by distributing some of the liability to defendants who don't have any money, Sen. Massey's legislation cheats injured victims of some damages they deserve. Both arguments have merit.

But here's what's not murky: Drunken driving is a huge public safety threat in South Carolina, and our state has a tremendous interest in deterring it. There are many ways to accomplish that, and unfortunately our Legislature has refused to try most of them. But one way is to make it prohibitively expensive for businesses to sell alcohol to minors and people who are already inebriated, and we have a law on the books that is a step in that direction. The last thing we need to do is repeal or water down that law.

If that means we have to make do with fewer places to buy an ice-cold six-pack, or even say goodbye to a few college bars, that's a loss our state can live with.

(Columbia) The State

July 12

How S.C. officials promote vaccine facts and health

There's a knock at your door.

You answer it, and before you know it, there's a syringe in your shoulder and an "I got the COVID-19 vaccine" sticker on your lapel.

Sound far-fetched?

That's because it is.

There are no plans to send government employees or anyone else for that matter to your home armed with good intentions and a carton of syringes.

But that's the impression many across the country, including here in South Carolina, seemed to have after President Biden's comments were twisted and turned for the sake of scoring political points.

What did Biden actually say?

"Now we need to go community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and (oftentimes), door to door, literally knocking on doors, to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus."

You can listen for yourself.

His remarks, however, led Gov. Henry McMaster to tell the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control to "issue direction to agency leadership and to state and local health care organizations prohibiting the use of the Biden Administration's 'targeted' 'door to door' tactics in the state's ongoing vaccination efforts."

"A South Carolinian's decision to get vaccinated is a personal one for them to make and not the government's," Gov. McMaster wrote. "Enticing, coercing, intimidating, mandating or pressuring anyone to take the vaccine is a bad policy which will deteriorate the public's trust and confidence in the state's vaccination efforts."

The governor continued: "The prospect of government vaccination teams showing up unannounced or unrequested at the door of 'targeted' homeowners or on their property will further deteriorate the public's trust and could lead to potentially disastrous public safety consequences."

But listen to Biden's remarks again.

No talk of vaccination teams, coercion, intimidation, etc.

Here's what we know.

43.1 percent of South Carolinians are fully vaccinated, an uptick since just last week, and 8,662 South Carolinians infected with COVID-19 have died with another 1,184 probable deaths.

Think about that for a minute. Thousands of your neighbors are dead.

No one is being forced to get vaccinated, but local, state and federal health officials are doing their part to stem the tide of deaths and save lives. It's really that simple.

Those who opt not to be vaccinated must do what they feel is best for them, but that doesn't mean that health officials, community leaders, our neighbors and friends should stop trying to do what's best either.

The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat

July 13

Remembering her for pageants and much more

Orangeburg is remembering the life of 52-year-old Angela T. Clark, who made history in our community during the 1990s and then moved into a career of entertaining and providing opportunities for other young women.

Clark, who died July 6, became in 1991 the first African-American woman, chosen as Miss North Charleston, to participate in the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Pageant and Miss America Organization. In 1992, she was the first African-American woman to be chosen as South Carolina Queen of Roses, and in 1993, she was the first African-American woman chosen as Miss Orangeburg County. In that same year, she was a top-10 finalist in the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Pageant and Miss America Organization. She also won the Miss Black & Gold Southern Region Contest (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.) and was first runner-up in the National Miss Black & Gold Contest in 1992.

"Everybody's not going to win a crown or something spectacular from participating, but that doesn't mean that you give up on being a part of it. Life is supposed to be about the journey, not the destination," Clark told T&D Staff Writer Dionne Gleaton in 2013. "I didn't win Miss South Carolina and didn't go on to win Miss America, but I still had amazing opportunities because of that."

A key opportunity grew out of the pageant experiences.

Clark was noticed by a producer during the Miss South Carolina Pageant at the age of 24. The producer worked on shows across the nation, including on cruise lines.

"He was in the audience at the pageant. He approached me afterward and asked if I would be interested in traveling and performing," she said. "He offered me a job working on cruise ships, and I've been doing that for 20 years" - traveling to more than 76 countries in her entertainment career.

"I don't know if I would have ever been able to visit as many places as I have if I had not been seen in that pageant. So I feel so fortunate that I have this blessing and this opportunity to expose people in Orangeburg to these opportunities," she said.

After her career as a singer/entertainer, Clark wanted to provide similar opportunities for other young women. She took on the mission of directing the Miss Orangeburg County and Miss Orangeburg County Teen pageants. Both are official preliminaries to the Miss South Carolina and Miss America scholarship organizations.

Clark, daughter of author and educator Barbara Clark and the late S.C. State professor Dr. Carl Clark, always credited her parents with instilling in her a drive to succeed, which she did from the local to international levels. She will be remembered among Orangeburg's finest.