Welcome to our February newsletter. I am very engaged in matters in the General Assembly as the Senator of District 42. I have included a brief summary of significant developments at the State House and in the district for the month of February.
AT THE STATE HOUSE
CONFIRMATION HEARING OF BRYAN STIRLING
On February 6th, the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee held a hearing to discuss the nomination of Bryan Stirling as prison director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”). As the hearing started, committee chairman Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, asked senators not to question Stirling regarding a recent court ruling by S.C. Judge Michael Baxley in which the SCDC was a defendant. Despite the chair’s instructions, I questioned Stirling as I found Judge Baxley’s ruling extremely troubling. The 45-page opinion concluded that seriously mentally ill inmates had died inside state prisons because of inhumane treatment. During the hearing, I wanted to understand what Stirling’s plans were to change these practices and policies and, more importantly, improve the conditions at Department of Correction facilities. My questions were meant to bring about awareness of the treatment of people who are incarcerated, particularly the mentally ill, and help ensure that their constitutional rights are being protected. The Greenville News, The State and The Charleston Chronicle wrote in-depth articles about the confirmation hearing. I have posted these articles on www.marlonkimpson.com and my Senate Facebook® page.
CONSTITUTIONAL CARRY BILL – Senate Bill 115
Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, sponsored a bill to allow anyone to carry a firearm, concealed or open, in public without a permit. This bill was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 17-4 vote on February 18th. Interestingly enough, during the debate, Sen. Bright compared guns to hot dogs. Check out my Facebook® page to see a video of me questioning Sen. Bright about the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and the danger this bill would pose to our state, if allowed to pass.
ETHICS REFORM – House Bill 3945
On Thursday, February 27th, the Senate gave approval to an ethics reform package. The Senate passed several amendments to the original House bill, which included banning leadership political action committees, requiring disclosure of lawmakers’ sources of income, increasing registration fees for lobbyists, and increasing penalties for ethics violations by legislators. The most controversial portion of debate was whether to include an independent oversight committee to hear ethics complaints. That provision was not included, however, as there was consensus that the Senate is doing enough to police its own members. The S.C. House will review the Senate’s amendments and will likely propose additional changes.
IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS
For the month of February, I attended the Rosemont and Maryville/Ashleyville neighborhood meetings. I also had the pleasure to be a part of many Black History programs and celebrations in the District including, but not limited to: serving as the keynote speaker for the Gamma Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, Inc. annual luncheon; reading to four pre-schools (New Israel CDC, Meeting Street Academy, Charleston Human Services CDC, and First African CDC) at the John L. Dart Library; and delivering the keynote addresses at the Jerusalem RMUE Church and the ASLAH Carter G. Woodson annual luncheon.
COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON – MEDICAL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA MERGER. As you probably know, lawmakers have introduced a bill to merge the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina – creating Charleston University. Since a significant portion of both institutions are located in District 42, many lawmakers and constituents have asked for my perspective. I have included my editorial that was published in The Post and Courier and Charleston Chronicle.
As a newly elected State Senator, I want to weigh-in on the discussion about the merger between the College of Charleston and MUSC, as a significant portion of both schools are located in District 42. First let me make clear, I have not made a decision on the proposed merger or whether it will be in best interest of either institution or the State of South Carolina. As a lawmaker, I have the obligation to perform due diligence and carefully evaluate the merits of the arguments before voting on legislation, and some questions remain unanswered.
The first question that comes to my mind is, how much will combining the institutions cost the state? I recently reviewed an August 31, 2013 white paper by a committee of faculty, staff and administrators from both schools entitled “Exploring a New Relationship between the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston.” While most people who argue for Charleston University cite the costs savings as a benefit in general, this committee determined that there would be “few costs savings from creating efficiencies of scale or eliminating duplication of effort” because the two schools have totally different missions and operate in different ways. The committee also noted that cost was one of the reasons that the University of Maryland-Baltimore/University of Maryland-College Park chose not to merge. Instead, those two schools entered into a formal collaborative agreement to avoid some of the costs of a merger, estimated to be as high $250 million. As another example, the committee noted that the Rutgers/University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey merger last year cost about $75 million. I’ve only been at the State House for two months, but I have been there long enough to know that the General Fund faces enormous challenges from its existing commitments without additional revenue sources. I have serious reservations about whether we can afford the transaction costs associated with the merger let alone make the required financial commitment to establish and operate a third major university in the state.
Another area that must be fully explored is the impact of a merger on the quality of life on the peninsula. If the purpose of the merger is to create a world class research university, then certainly additional academic programs would need to be added. For example, some say that an engineering program is necessary to the success of the merged school and to support the business community. As neither school has an engineering program, its addition will require new physical space to house it and its students and faculty. Unlike the University of South Carolina and Clemson University, which are both located in areas that can easily accommodate expansion, Charleston is a land-locked peninsula with a unique culture that in some ways is already challenged by space limitations. Creating a research institution downtown would definitely change the Charleston we know today. How would downtown accommodate such expansion?
Last but not least, I will be interested in knowing what the proposed merger does to improve life for the people who live and work here. Many surrounding neighborhoods have already experienced gentrification with new hotels, restaurants and retail spaces being added in the recent years. Will the merger hasten this process? And what does the proposed merger do to improve diversity among students, faculty and administration? In this regard, I note the dismal number of African-Americans currently attending the College of Charleston. African-Americans make up about 30% of South Carolina’s population and yet less than 7% of the students at College of Charleston are black. Separately, I am very concerned about the alleged disparate treatment of minority employees at MUSC in terms of pay-equity and job-advancement. Would new leadership address these challenges? Notwithstanding the merger, I will be focusing on these issues to ensure that public universities in South Carolina make every effort to diversify student population and, equally important, treat people with respect and dignity.
Accordingly, I will be seeking an answer to these questions and listening attentively as these issues are discussed at the State House.
Senator Marlon Kimpson
District 42 – Charleston & Dorchester Counties