SC politics: Toal wants millions to safeguard court information

March 12, 2014 

Supreme Chief Justice Jean Toal

C. ALUKA BERRY — caberry@thestate.com Buy Photo

Toal wants millions to safeguard court info

The head of South Carolina’s judicial system told a Senate panel Wednesday that she needs more money to safeguard digital information for courts around the state.

Appearing before a Senate Finance subcommittee, Chief Justice Jean Toal said it would take about $5.5 million to set up a site at Clemson University that could serve as a backup for digital court records now stored in Columbia. In addition, Toal said the court system also needs about $500,000 to train staff on data security measures and about $1.5 million a year to run the backup system.

“You’ve got to have a backup,” Toal said. “As filings continue, and as court business continues during a disaster that may hit Columbia, this data can be continuing to be used, not just viewed.”

Technological upgrades and improvements have been among Toal’s top priorities during her more than a decade as chief justice. Testifying before lawmakers last year, Toal told legislators that she wanted to see long-term projects – like an electronic court document filing system – through to fruition.

The $67.7 million in Judicial Department funding approved Wednesday by the House doesn’t include the millions in data security money. But Toal said that the state’s courts would be hampered severely if digital information were wiped out and had not been backed up.

“It could cripple the court’s ability to run the court system, if something happened to that system,” Toal said. “Recurring funds of this type are going to be a part of everybody’s budget as you move toward electronic systems.”

President declares 21 S.C. counties disaster areas

President Barack Obama signed off Wednesday on a major disaster declaration request from South Carolina, ordering federal aid in the 21 counties hit hardest by a winter storm last month.

Federal money will be available to pay for emergency work and repairs from the Feb. 10-14 storm.

The federal government will pay 75 percent of bills. How the rest will be paid is undetermined, the S.C. Emergency Management Division said.

The counties receiving aid are: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Berkeley, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Colleton, Dillon, Dorchester, Edgefield, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Marion, Orangeburg, Saluda, Sumter and Williamsburg.

State agencies, local governments and some nonprofits also could get federal money for work that reduces damage risks in future disasters, state emergency officials said.

Gov. Nikki Haley made the aid request after the second devastating winter storm to hit South Carolina in two week.

Governments can’t profit from credit fee

The budget plan adopted Wednesday by the S.C. House allows S.C. towns and counties to continue charging taxpayers a processing fee for credit-card payments, but they’ll pay a steep price if they try to profit from the fees,

GOP Rep. Jim Merrill and Democratic Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, both of Charleston, fought to ban the practice altogether, saying people who choose to pay with plastic shouldn’t be hit with an extra fee.

The House rejected that proposal after members argued it would cut into their local governments’ tax collections. They contend the fee covers only what local governments pay vendors for offering the convenience.

The House then approved an amendment that Stavrinakis argued was needed for accountability, so local governments don’t charge taxpayers more than it costs them. If they do, they can be fined $1,000 per violation.

The Associated Press and Andrew Shain contributed

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