Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Index-Journal on prayer policies:
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We live in a world in which students think little to nothing about writing bomb threat messages on school bathroom walls, sharing inappropriate photos via Snapchat. What could be the harm, then, in letting the captain of the football team or a designee deliver an opening or closing message wholly of their choice and wholly unchecked in advance by school staff?
Sure, one would expect the captain to deliver a wholesome message, kind of like one would expect an inspirational speech from the valedictorian at graduation. But even a few valedictorians have gone off script, much to the dismay of school officials.
Apparently, a couple of Greenwood County School District 51 school board members are determined to get a two-minute prayer during football games. The matter came up in January and was defeated. Chairman Scott Horne brought it up again at this month's regular meeting, but with a slight revision. Rather than single out football games, he reintroduced a policy change that would allow for the message to be delivered at all "school-sponsored athletic events."
Once again, even with the twist of language and again with Superintendent Fay Sprouse recommending against it, the policy change was defeated by a 3-2 vote. Wisely.
Now don't get all up in arms and try to say that Ware Shoals is going straight to the devil (that's another mascot anyway) or that the superintendent is trying to keep God out of school or that the newspaper, by way of its support for the school board's vote, is also out to keep God out of schools and off the football fields. Really, that's not the case.
As we and plenty of others have contended time and time again, prayer in school is hardly outlawed. Public schools do not chase students away from the flagpoles when they have organized prayer during "Meet Me at the Flagpole" prayer sessions. It's voluntary, not school-sponsored, and perfectly fine with every school administration we can think of — at least within our coverage area.
If the football team wants to gather on the field before the kickoff and have a couple of minutes of prayer, so far as we know and have witnessed, it is free to do so. And, given what we've heard on the sidelines and locker rooms, it's obvious coaches have a word of prayer with the players, often lasting well beyond two minutes. So, perhaps the team can and should pray on the field before a game. Or after, especially if they lose because coach is probably going to lay into them again in the locker room.
While it's obvious that proponents of the policy were wanting to essentially institutionalize prayer, the policy very well might have backfired on them as we suspect they were not anticipating anything more than a Christian prayer. But by allowing the message to be uncensored and without prior review, the district would be allowing a prayer from any and all religions and faiths - likely an unwanted outcome. And while it could result in punishment, such as being suspended from a game or even kicked off the team, what's to say the messenger wouldn't use his two minutes to fill the air with off-color speech.
Sprouse was right and, frankly, brave to stand up to the policy change. But she did so because she likely knew a "yes" vote might well have led to board members praying for a policy reversal.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on South Carolina's death penalty options:
Without access to lethal-injection drugs, the state has been unable to execute convicted killers since 2013. That leaves the Legislature with three choices, none of them good. Do lawmakers revive the electric chair, a relic that fell out of favor nationwide after numerous botched and gruesome executions? What about firing squads, an archaic and particularly violent method of execution that failed to garner support here three years ago? Or should the state make secret deals to obtain lethal-injection drugs from unidentified drug-makers?
Prosecutors such as 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe are fed up with waiting for an answer. From their perspective, a jury found these men guilty of heinous crimes, they were sentenced and the state must find a way to carry out the sentences. If not, what's the point of being a capital punishment state?
The questions are complicated by the excruciatingly slow legal process of carrying out death sentences, which also is unfair to the victims' families even when the drugs are available. All but three death row inmates in South Carolina have been awaiting their turn for at least a decade. No one has been executed since 2011. The number of death-row inmates has declined from 51 in 2013, when the state's drug supply ran out, to 36 today.
In a grim war of attrition, the inmates are either dying or getting their sentences converted to life faster than the state can find a way to execute them.
Drug-makers stopped selling the necessary drugs to states because of the potential backlash of being associated with capital punishment. Fewer states and countries have the death penalty today but support remains strong in South Carolina, where 65 percent of respondents to the Winthrop Poll released Wednesday said they want to keep it. Just over half of them, however, agreed that it's not applied fairly nationwide.
Bills in the House and the Senate would make the electric chair the default method for killing death row inmates if the state can't get lethal injection drugs. The Legislature should resist the urge to approve these measures. Electrocution dates back to the 1880s when it was used to kill animals, but it soon found favor as an alternative to hanging criminals. It hasn't always worked as planned, leading to death-chamber horror stories and executions lasting a grueling 20 minutes or more.
Many would say these killers got what they deserved and that they didn't give their victims a choice, which always brings up the question: Is the purpose of capital punishment to dispense justice or to inflict pain and suffering?
Mr. Pascoe recently mentioned the firing squad idea after reluctantly agreeing to a life sentence for a convicted murderer who had won a new sentencing hearing. The prosecutor didn't want to put the victim's family through that ordeal again.
The firing squad, while a strange ritual to most people, does have the advantage of bringing about death faster than electrocution or lethal injection, which at times also has resulted in long, painful deaths. Even so, it might be difficult for citizens to get behind the idea of the state shooting people to death. Rep. Joshua Putnam proposed a firing squad bill in 2015 that failed to catch on. After hearing of Mr. Pascoe's frustration, Rep. Putnam, R-Piedmont, is taking another swing at it. Oklahoma, Mississippi and Utah are the only states that permit firing squads, though they have been used rarely over the years.
Lethal injection is the most acceptable of the three execution options. And South Carolina should be able to obtain the necessary drugs without having to keep the names of drug providers secret, a proposal endorsed by Gov. Henry McMaster and Corrections Director Bryan Stirling. While this would give companies the anonymity they desire and allow executions to resume, the state shouldn't have to resort to secret deals to carry out a judicial mandate supported by a large majority of South Carolinians.
The Myrtle Beach Sun News on pay disparity among public safety workers:
Money cannot fix every problem, but it certainly can close a glaring gap in the salaries of Horry County firefighters. The pay in Horry County Fire Rescue is one obvious reason the county service is losing experienced firefighters to departments such as the City of Myrtle Beach.
The minimum starting salary of $38,640 for city firefighters is $4,184 more than the Horry County minimum. The disparity grows to more than $16,000 a year at the top level of pay for experienced firefighter-paramedics. For the latter, the basic pay is $10,000 less in the county department. Paramedics have more training than Emergency Medical Technicians. Ambulances must have paramedics.
Pay is hardly the only issue. Horry County Fire Rescue has 25 vacant positions, including eight paramedics. Another 22 firefighters are in training and not yet working in firehouses. The department changed its overtime rules, so firefighters are working more mandatory overtime. Without overtime, county firefighters work 24-hour shifts (at their firehouses, on call) and are off 48 hours.
Some of the county's first responders are working 48-hour shifts. Depending on the number of calls made, that can mean paramedics who have not slept. This is more than speculation. Travis Glatki, president of the Myrtle Beach Professional Firefighter's Association, emailed members of the Horry County Council: "We (Myrtle Beach firefighters) have witnessed EMTs and paramedics on ambulance units work grueling schedules, often-times going 48 hours with little to no sleep."
Members of the Horry County Council should pay close attention to Glatki's information, which describes a potential public safety disaster. Glatki's counterpart in the county service is Rob Mullaney, president of the Horry County chapter of the International Association of Firefighters. Mullaney was quoted in The Sun News reporting about county firefighters going to other departments and their complaints about overtime and low pay: "A lot of the problems are staffing. Our turnover rate is ridiculous and you're losing a lot of mid-level and senior guys . starting over at (other) departments because the benefits are better, the pay is better, the longevity with the pay is better."
For another perspective, look at the number of applicants for firefighter recruits. Horry County had 47 applications for training; the city of Myrtle Beach had about 500 — clearly showing that vastly more prospective firefighters want to work for Myrtle Beach than for Horry County.
Elected officials, including those on municipal and county councils, have a natural reluctance to increase wages of any class of employees, and the well-paid administrators and managers serve at the pleasure of the elected councils. Several members of the Horry County Council are in the last year of their terms, and may not wish to explain any additional costs (pay raises) to their constituents, the taxpayers.
Increasing the pay of Horry County firefighters and law enforcement officers should not be delayed, in the same way Myrtle Beach improved salaries of city police officers. More people, residents and visitors, absolutely requires more public safety people and the city and the county must be competitive.