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Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Post and Courier. February 20, 2022.

Editorial: Support SC bill to give property owners an incentive to build trails

The past two years of the pandemic have underscored how important (and healthy) it is for all of us to have outdoor spaces where we can walk, bike, run, hike and simply draw breaths of fresh air. South Carolina lawmakers should pass a pending bill that would help make that easier than ever by encouraging the development of a more robust network of trails.

H.3120 would let property owners claim a one-time income tax credit for allowing a permanent recreational easement across their land. For those trying to establish new trails — and there are several such efforts under way across the state — the bill’s passage would provide a powerful new tool.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Max Hyde, R-Spartanburg, and cosponsored by many other Republicans and Democrats, grew from a Spartanburg effort to create the Daniel Morgan Trail. “The Dan,” as it’s called, would be a 55-mile-long web of trails across the metro region, from the Pacolet to the North Tyger rivers to Croft State Park. Only 19 miles exist, but the county received a $23.8 million federal grant to build about 15 more miles; the county and its main partner, Spartanburg People for Active Living, hope to build 30 more miles in the next decade.

Laura Ringo, PAL’s executive director, said more than 100 property owners will need to provide easements to make the trail possible, and paying for such easements would set a precedent that would make the trail too costly to complete.

“Most property owners are interested and willing to have a conversation,” she says. “Usually, we get to a point of agreement, but there are some people who very fairly ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ We can sing and dance and talk about community benefit and long-term property value and all this does to bring us together, but that doesn’t help.” While such trails most often increase the value of a property, that doesn’t help owners who aren’t looking to sell.

The bill would allow owners to reduce their state income taxes once. For every square foot they place under a permanent trail easement, they could reduce their tax bill by 10 cents. If they don’t owe enough state income tax to claim the full credit in the first year, they could extend it up to five years — not unlike the state’s credit for owners fixing up historic homes.

Many existing trails in South Carolina, such as the West Ashley Greenway, the West Ashley Bikeway and Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail, were built on former railroad beds, so their developers didn’t have to struggle with dozens or even hundreds of property owners to acquire the needed land. Ms. Ringo notes that only about 2 miles of The Dan are a former railroad right of way.

While the bill grew out of Spartanburg’s current project, many South Carolina communities are working on new trail networks or extending existing trails. Mount Pleasant is only beginning work on its vision for Mount Pleasant Way, a vast network of multiuse paths crisscrossing the town, but it’s already becoming clear that the town could use more tools to work with property owners.

Most recently, the town sought to buy privately owned land along Rifle Range Road for its new multi-use path but faced pushback from some Six Mile community members who aren’t sold on the idea. Meanwhile, Charleston County Council won’t give the town greenbelt dollars as long as the town is contemplating the use of condemnation to buy the property without its owners’ consent. That’s understandable: As laudable as trails are, we’re uneasy about government using eminent domain to create them. Better to pause, build up trust and rapport with property owners and convince them of the trail’s merits. Certainly, being able to offer some tax incentives might help.

Other examples include the Palmetto Trail, a hiking trail winding hundreds of miles across South Carolina that has been in the works since 1994. It’s about two-thirds complete, but its nonprofit still is working to realize the last 150 miles, mostly through the Midlands and Upstate. The Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail are hoping to extend the length of it in Beaufort County. The East Coast Greenway, a bike-ped trail linking Maine and Florida, is only partially realized in South Carolina. And there are too many other trail projects envisioned by cities, counties and nonprofits to list here.

We recognize state tax credits aren’t always the right answer. There must be a clear benefit for what South Carolina is receiving in exchange for the future income tax proceeds that state government would forgo.

But credits can provide a low-cost incentive for actions that strengthen South Carolina’s quality of place and quality of life, such as properly restoring historic homes and building a new network of trails that would connect us with one another and give us more opportunities than ever to enjoy our state’s beauty.

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Times and Democrat. February 18, 2022.

Editorial: S.C. should legalize medical marijuana

Opponents of medicinal marijuana aren’t wrong to say there are dangers involved in South Carolina legalizing even the limited use of a drug that the federal government outlaws and the FDA hasn’t approved and the CDC hasn’t recommended for medical treatment.

They aren’t wrong to raise questions about whether Sen. Tom Davis’ proposal will create an industry that will be well-placed to lobby for future liberalization of a strict medical cannabis law, which in turn would make it easier for adolescents to have access to yet another drug that can alter their still-developing brains.

And they’re not wrong to raise questions about whether the medical marijuana bill is written tightly enough to help patients who truly need the pain-relief and other medical benefits it could provide while also limiting abuse by people who want to use marijuana recreationally.

But some opponents overlook important context: While the federal government does categorize marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — an illegal drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” — that’s based on political decisions by the Congress, not medical decisions by the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those agencies haven’t approved or recommended marijuana’s use because federal law has effectively prevented them from even seriously considering doing so.

Look no further than the CDC’s warnings about marijuana and prescription opioids to see which is more dangerous; it’s not even a close call.

Opponents overlook, too, the rest of the story on that political decision: Since 2015, the Congress has included language in the annual federal budget to prohibit the Justice Department from taking any action to stop states from allowing the medicinal use of marijuana. That’s not the same as prohibiting federal agents from arresting people for selling or using medical marijuana, but it is a legally binding acceptance of medical marijuana by the Congress and the president.

They also overlook the fact that S.150 doesn’t allow anyone to use marijuana in the most popular way: by smoking it. Patients — who would have to get approval from a physician to purchase up to a 14-day supply from a special dispensary — would be limited to using oils, salves, patches, vaporizers or edible cannabis.

Perhaps most importantly, opponents overlook the fact that the choice for people with debilitating pain isn’t always between using marijuana or suffering — although that is the choice for some, and it’s a morally difficult one to justify when there are relatively safe alternatives. The choice is more often between marijuana or opioids, which are not only in many cases less effective but in all cases more dangerous.

What we need most is for the Congress to change marijuana to a Schedule II drug, like the far more dangerous opioids whose death toll is high and growing, or pass a permanent law giving states the authority to regulate marijuana, just as they may regulate alcohol. In either event, Congress should authorize the CDC to study medicinal cannabis to provide some recommendations.

Unfortunately, Congress is largely dysfunctional. So if we want to do anything to relieve the nausea of cancer treatment and the debilitating pain of neuropathy and other chronic conditions and treat multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, sickle cell anemia and autism — which we should want to do — then the S.C. Legislature has to do what 37 other states already have done: Heed Congress’ wink and nod and legalize the medicinal use of cannabis.

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Index-Journal. February 24, 2022.

Editorial: Board should have first given public consideration

Adam Rich had a good point.

The Abbeville County school board member was one of four who voted against the adoption of a modified year-round calendar Tuesday.

It’s not his vote that made the good point; rather, it’s his concern about the process that led to the board’s vote.

As reported in today’s story, following the 5-4 vote to approve the modified calendar, Rich had this to say:

“I don’t have a problem with either calendar. What I don’t like about it is we didn’t get any input from the public as far as doing it the way some of the other counties have done it and I also don’t like that we’re doing it so quickly as far as just after this summer.”

Other school districts have given more notice before making such a significant change to the school calendar, he said, and he’s right. School boards in the Lakelands, including McCormick and Greenwood District 50, had significant discussion, but more than that, they conducted surveys and had open discussions at meetings so they could hear from parents, teachers, administrators and, yes, even the students. They did not simply ask teachers their opinion of year-round school calendars.

Such decisions should not be made lightly. Even if the majority of school board members think a modified calendar is the best route taken, it is answerable to the voters, taxpayers and others it serves.

They would have done well to go through a process that entails hearing from the public, the teachers and administrators first. Instead, they appear to be suppositional in their decision-making.

When all is said and done, the board might yet come away with a majority favoring the modified calendar, but at least it would have been done after having given the courtesy of hearing from the public first, and genuinely caring what the public had to say.

END