THE LEGISLATURE is not going to stop men from injuring and killing their wives and ex-wives and girlfriends — or women from injuring and killing their husbands, ex-husbands and boyfriends. Domestic violence is in our DNA — and probably more concentrated in the DNA of South Carolinians than most Americans, just as violence in general is more prevalent here than in much of the nation.
What the Legislature can do is create smarter sentences that can prevent the next attack. It can create education programs that slowly change how we look at crime between intimate partners — much like education and tougher laws changed how we look at smoking and driving under the influence and a lot of other pathologies that used to be accepted as normal, or at least none of our business.
That’s why we’re so encouraged by the bill the Legislature passed last week to create tougher and smarter penalties for domestic violence and to educate children about what is and isn’t appropriate in interpersonal relationships. We’re encouraged that rather than sticking to one approach or the other, lawmakers combined the two approaches. Lives will be saved as a result of this legislation, which awaits what we have every reason to believe will be Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature.
We’re also encouraged that the Legislature managed to accomplish something important during this incredibly disappointing session, because it looked for a while like it wasn’t going to. Beyond addressing a significant problem in our state, this legislation also serves as a reminder that the House can come together, and the Senate can come together, and the House and the Senate can come together, sometimes when you least expect it, and pass legislation that is important to our state.
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With just three days remaining in this year’s regular session, there are plenty of opportunities for that to happen again. And as unlikely as it might seem, that’s what the Legislature needs to do. That’s what the public has every right to expect, and every duty to demand.
It’s not too late for the Senate to join the House in reforming how road decisions are made and creating a steady source of funding to repair and improve our roads — without crippling the rest of state government. Although most of the blame goes to our anemic highway safety laws, the poor condition of our roads contributes to our high highway death rates.
It’s unlikely, but it’s not too late for the Senate to pass some of the ethics reforms that the House already has passed. Even if it’s only requiring legislators to tell us where they get their income — though there’s no reason it shouldn’t also include requiring special interests to tell us when they’re spending money to skew our elections, and letting an independent body investigate legislators’ compliance with the ethics law.
And there’s plenty of time to require local governments to provide an agenda for every meeting and require police to wear body cameras; the House and Senate both have passed bills on these topics, and negotiators need to work through differences. There’s a common thread here that negotiators need to keep in mind: Government works best, and the public best trusts the government, when it allows maximum public scrutiny.
Of course, there’s lots of work to be done on next year’s state budget, and some of that will have to be done this week, since state economists have just given lawmakers the green light to spend $300 million more than they had expected. But that debate, along with debate on meeting agendas and police cameras, can spill over into an extended session later in the month. The same will not be true of the roads or ethics debates, unless the Senate acts this week. Which it needs to do.