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Monday
Mar032014

Bill Would Allow Digital Proof of Insurance

A bill on Gov. Nikki Haley's desk would allow South Carolina drivers to use their smartphone in a traffic stop to prove they have insurance.

While TV commercials suggest officers already accept electronic proof, South Carolina is not among the 30 states currently allowing the convenience. State law requires drivers to keep proof of insurance in their vehicles at all times, which they must be able to show an officer on demand.

The Senate gave final approval last week to the bill specifying insurers can provide coverage policies through a smartphone, which drivers can use as proof. Oyango Snell with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America says the option means drivers don't have to keep up with a paper card that must be replaced every six months.

Monday
Mar032014

Verizon Recruiting for S.C. Jobs

Verizon Wireless plans to add 98 full-time customer specialists and retail employees across South Carolina. The positions, which are expected to be filled before April 1, the company said.

"Verizon Wireless is a growing company in an exciting industry, and we are expanding here in South Carolina," said Jerry Fountain, president of the Carolinas/Tennessee region for Verizon Wireless. "We are committed to offering resources to all our employees that help them enjoy work and grow their careers without sacrificing the things that are most important to their families."

Verizon, which employs 3,700 South Carolinians, offers tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance and annual bonuses. The company promotes work/life balance by offering lactation rooms for new mothers, on-site college courses, education study rooms, dining facilities and state-of-the-art fitness centers staffed with personal trainers. Verizon Wireless actively recruits military veterans.

"Veterans return home every day and have to begin new lives as civilians," said Michele Brookshire of Verizon's Talent Acquisitions Team. "Verizon recruiters are trained to understand the value of a candidate's military experience. We believe those sometimes intangible skills add value to our company and help a veteran to thrive in a team environment like ours."

Interested candidates may apply online by visiting the Verizon Wireless website at www.vzwcareers.com.

Monday
Mar032014

Ethics Bill Would Require Source of Income for Officials

A bill headed for the South Carolina House this week would allow voters to see where candidates get their money and expand reporting rules for those seeking to influence legislators.

The ethics reform package, approved by the Senate by a vote of 33-2, has been criticized for not being tough enough, but political observers say it's a start.

"There's too much cynicism out there, too much of people thinking there are sweetheart deals being done, and to that point, any kind of ethics reform is a positive thing," said political consultant Chip Felkel.

In addition to requiring S.C. lawmakers to disclose personal sources of income, the bill would ban Leadership Political Action Committees, which critics say have been abused.

It would also eliminate the loophole allowing groups to spend money on elections without identifying themselves or their donors.

Republican Sen. Larry Martin, of Pickens, said the source of those funds are impossible to trace now.

"I mean, you try to look up where these folks are. They're not filing anything. There's no way to run down who these folks are, how much money they're spending, none of that," Martin told WYFF News 4's Tim Waller.

What the amended House bill doesn't do is create an independent commission to investigate ethics complaints against state lawmakers.  It keeps intact the current system of House and Senate ethics committees overseeing their members and candidates for their chambers.

Critics have compared that to the fox guarding the hen house, but Martin disagrees.

"Quite frankly, the state grand jury has enormous investigative powers and they use them.  They're using them right now involving a member of the general assembly," Martin said.

The bill increases penalties for some ethics violations.  It also increases from one year to two the time legislators must be out of office before becoming a lobbyist. If they're consultants in the meantime, they must register with the State Ethics Commission.

Monday
Mar032014

S.C. Stuck with Nuclear Waste After N.M. Dump Closed

A radioactive leak that has indefinitely shut down a New Mexico nuclear waste dump has left South Carolina holding a stockpile of weapons waste that had been scheduled to be shipped westward for disposal by the end of next year.

The plans to ship waste stored at the Savannah River Site are in limbo – and the government isn’t prepared yet to talk about what will happen next if the New Mexico underground dump no longer is an option.

The U.S. Department of Energy said Friday it is “evaluating its options” after a mysterious leak two weeks ago at New Mexico’s federal Waste Isolation Pilot Plant exposed workers to radiation and shut down operations.

The department said more information will be presented next week.

Nuclear watchdogs say the government should be prompt in sharing information on the future of SRS waste slated for transport and should heed the unexpected leak as evidence not to allow further storage of nuclear spent fuel at SRS.

“Nuclear waste dumps leak — and they leak sooner than the experts predict,” said Tom Clements, Columbia-based nuclear adviser to the Sierra Club’s chapter in South Carolina. “Obviously this is going to have an impact on operations at Savannah River Site, and they should talk about it.”

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday that “we’re monitoring and seeing what impact” the New Mexico radiation leak will have on SRS.

Full Story Here

Monday
Mar032014

Science: More than 120 "Scholarly" Publications Fraudulent

It looks like the gatekeepers took a long, long lunch. And while they were out, more than 120 computer-generated research papers made their way into scholarly journals and even, in some cases, were published online at conferences.

A computer scientist in France, Cyril Labbé, working at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, found the bogus papers when he ran the software he developed to tell users if a research paper had been created through SCIgen, a program developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), according to a report by HNGN.

Labbé also found that many of the papers, which were essentially gibberish, had been presented online in conference proceedings from 2008 to 2013. He indexed the fake papers and learned that more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and 16 by Springer.

The real question, of course, is how these gobbledegook papers got past the publishers’ editors.

Monika Stickel, director of IEEE’s corporate communications, told Nature News that the publisher “took immediate action to remove the papers” and has “refined our processes to prevent papers not meeting our standards from being published in the future.”

Labbé isn’t sure whether the purported authors even knew their names were attached to the fake papers. He tried to contact them but only one responded, saying he wasn’t aware that he was listed as co-author on a paper, at least not until his university was informed in 2013, HNGN reports.

He also noted that most the conferences that accepted fake research papers as well as most of the authors had Chinese affiliations.

When asked to comment on the matter, Jeremy Stribling, the author of SCIgen, told Nature News, “I wasn’t aware of the scale of the problem, but I knew it definitely happens. We do get occasional mail from good citizens letting us know when SCIgen papers are showing up.”

Sunday
Mar022014

Observer's Snow Day Saturday Shopping a Big Success

When the Polar Vortex and follow up winter storms fell on Anderson in February, snow and ice weren't the only thing that dropped. An Anderson Observer survey of 20 local businesses posted an average of 20 percent losses in revenue for February due to the storms, which closed many of businesses for between five and seven days.

So the Anderson Observer sponsored Snow Day Saturday Shopping yesterday, asking residents to spend an extra $25 they had not planned to spend at a local business on Saturday. The Observer was joined by The Morning Show with (Observer Pulbisher) Greg and Aly on 103.1 FM and other dowtown leaders later added their support to the day.

The result? Of the 15  of the businesses contacted at random by the Observer on Sunda, all reported huge days Saturday. "Thanks for doing this," said one downtown business owner. "Our place was just rocking on Saturday and every little bit helps."

Sunday
Mar022014

Bus Route, McCants Apartments On Council Agenda

Anderson County Council will present a comprehensive plan for Anderson County's next decade as part of Tuesday night's agenda for the council meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the historic courthouse downtown.

Also on the agenda are votes on bus service in the county to replace the CATBus, McCants apartments and a report on indigent burial in the county.

Full Agenda Here

Anderson Plan Draft Here

Sunday
Mar022014

Some Drivers with Suspended Licences Could Get Help

BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. - Some South Carolina drivers with suspended licenses will get a chance later this month to have their driving privileges restored. From March 10 to 14, the Department of Motor Vehicles will reduce or clear certain suspensions if all fines are paid, certain insurance papers are filed, and any necessary tests are successfully completed.

"If you believe you qualify, we encourage you to start getting ready now," DMV director Kevin Shwedo said. "The sooner you start the process, the better your chances of meeting every requirement."

The program is offered at all DMV offices in the state but is not available to everyone. Drivers whose licenses were suspended for alcohol- or drug-related offenses are not eligible.

But drivers who faced suspension for operating an unlicensed or uninsured vehicle could be eligible, said department spokeswoman Beth Parks.

State lawmakers require the department to offer the suspension eligibility period once a year. The requirements can be complex, and vary according to the number and type of suspensions involved, officials said.

All fees must be paid and certain insurance forms may be required. Drivers with a clear record may apply for a new driver's license, and some people may have to take certain tests to regain their license.

"Once a driver has a clear record, they may apply for a driver's license," Parks said.

If a driver has more than one suspension, the suspension time may be recalculated, Parks said.

There are 12,154 suspensions currently on the books that might be eligible, said Shirley Rivers, the DMV's director for procedures and compliance.

The suspension eligibility week was first held in 2011. At that time, Rivers said, 233 people participated and had 371 suspensions lifted.

In 2012, 311 people cleared 336 suspensions. In 2013, 264 individuals cleared 290 suspensions, she said.

"The law is very specific about which suspensions are covered," Rivers said.

Friday
Feb282014

New Food Labels Revision to Cost $2 Billion

Ice cream lovers beware: The government knows you’re unlikely to stop after half a cup. New nutrition labels proposed Thursday for many popular foods, including ice cream, aim to more accurately reflect what people actually eat.

And the proposal would make calorie counts on labels more prominent, too, reflecting that nutritionists now focus more on calories than fat.

For the first time, labels also would be required to list any sugars that are added by manufacturers. In one example of the change, the estimated serving size for ice cream would jump from a half cup to a cup, so the calorie listing on the label would double as well. The idea behind the change, the first overhaul of the labels in two decades, isn’t that the government thinks people should be eating twice as much; it’s that they should understand how many calories are in what they already are eating. The Food and Drug Administration says that, by law, serving sizes must be based on actual consumption, not some ideal.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple, that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” said first lady Michelle Obama, who joined the FDA in announcing the proposed changes at the White House. Mrs. Obama made the announcement as part of her Let’s Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is marking its fourth anniversary.

On Tuesday, she announced new Agriculture Department rules that would reduce marketing of less-healthful foods in schools. The new labels would be less cluttered. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg called them “a more user-friendly version.” But they are probably several years away. The FDA will take comments on the proposal for 90 days, and a final rule could take another year. Once it’s final, the agency has proposed giving industry two years to comply. The agency projects food companies will have to pay around $2 billion to revise labels. Companies have resisted some of the changes in the past, including listing added sugars, but the industry is so far withholding criticism.

Full Story Here

Friday
Feb282014

Republican Governors Spend $200,000 on Haley TV Ad

The Republican Governors Association plans to launch its first TV ad of the 2014 cycle in South Carolina next week, according to a person tracking the buy, providing air reinforcements for potentially vulnerable Gov. Nikki Haley (R).

The RGA plans to spend about $200,000 to air the commercial, which has not yet been released, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. It's the third second state in which the RGA is hitting the airwaves. The group recently launched its first ads in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) faces a potentially competitive race, and Arkansas. The Democratic Governors Association has hit the air in Michigan (Republican-controlled) and Arkansas (Democratic-controlled).

Republicans are defending 22 gubernatorial seats this year, compared to Democrats' 14.

Haley is running for a second term against likely Democratic nominee Vincent Sheheen, a state senator she defeated in 2010. The governor's polling numbers have not been great, and Sheheen's campaign has impressed national Democrats. But South Carolina's conservative tilt will be tough for him to overcome. The Fix recently rated the South Carolina race as the seventh most likely governor's race to switch party control this fall.

The RGA did not confirm the ad buy when asked about it. But RGA spokeswoman Gail Gitcho criticized Sheheen, saying, "President Obama has plenty of politicians in Washington eager to serve as rubber stamps for his failed policy priorities and Columbia doesn’t need another one."

South Carolina Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Sosanie said, "Nikki Haley's in deep trouble and clearly the RGA knows it."

Friday
Feb282014

Haley, Sheheen Oppose Ethics Update

— An update to S.C. ethics laws – more than a year in the making – passed the state Senate on Thursday only to be blasted by Gov. Nikki Haley and her likely Democratic challenger for governor in November, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, as not being good enough.

In particular, the two rivals faulted the proposal for not including an independent body to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by lawmakers.

“Let’s be clear, what the Senate passed tonight wasn’t ethics reform – it’s an income-disclosure bill, and while that’s a positive step forward, it’s really only a half-step,” Haley spokesman Doug Mayer said.

“Some reform is better than no reform, but this bill is pretty close to nothing,” Sheheen said, before turning his criticism toward Haley. “In order to have open and accountable government, we need full income disclosure, an independent body to investigate ethics violations, and to finally put an end to the governor’s continued misuse of the state plane and vehicles for campaign activities.”

Haley has come under fire for her use of state vehicles for travel, including to some campaign events. The controversy led to her reimbursing the state for some expenses, and, critics said, demonstrated the need to clarify state rules that govern use of state-owned vehicles.

The Senate-passed bill would require public officials to report their sources of private income, but not the amounts that they are paid. It also would require consultants who discuss policy with lawmakers to register with the state, just as lobbyists, who attempt to influence the outcome of legislative votes, now do.

The Senate adopted Sheheen’s proposal to create educational seminars about ethics for public officials and candidates, and his amendment to require public officials to file bank-account statements with their campaign finance reports, making it easier to verify claimed expenses.

The Senate-passed bill also attempts to bring anonymous political groups into the sunshine, requiring the organizations to register and file financial disclosures with the state if more than half of their activity goes toward influencing the outcome of elections. Some legislators have complained that they have been targeted by political funds with unlimited sums raised from anonymous sources with unknown agendas.

Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, applauded the Senate bill as part of an ongoing debate about ethics laws. More than 20 years ago, he said, the state’s ethics law was “a toothless ethics structure.” The Senate proposal updates that law into a much stronger bill, he said.

Courson said the proposal to require lawmakers to disclose their private sources of income would eliminate “problems elected officials, including Haley, have had,” doing away with the need for hearings into whether a lawmaker violated an ethics law.

Courson was referring to the House Ethics Committee twice clearing Haley of allegations of illegal lobbying and other violations for working as a consultant while a state representative.

A version of the bill already has passed the House. Because the reform proposals, passed by the House and Senate, differ, the plan passed Thursday by the Senate now must go back to the House, which can accept or reject the Senate’s changes.

As the bill returns to the House, the question of who will police lawmakers remains unresolved. Under current law, legislative ethics committees in the House and Senate are tasked with investigating members of those bodies for ethics violations.

The House passed a bill in May that included an independent body to investigate allegations against lawmakers. But the Senate balked at that arrangement.

Senators pointed to the Senate Ethics Committee’s handling of allegations against Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston Democrat, who the committee accused of misusing campaign money. Under pressure from the Senate committee, Ford resigned. Senators then referred the allegations against Ford to the State Law Enforcement Division for investigation.

Both Haley and Sheheen have called for ending the practice of lawmakers policing themselves.

“The Senate’s failure to include independent investigations is just another glaring example of some legislators believing that it’s acceptable for the fox to continue guarding the hen house,” Haley spokesman Mayer said. “It’s now up to the House to correct that mistake.”

“This bill is a modest step forward,” Sheheen said, “but we can do better.”

Full Story Here


Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/02/27/3296011/sc-gov-haley-sen-sheheen-blast.html#storylink=cpy
Friday
Feb282014

Report: New Insurer Takes Lead in S.C. Healthcare

— With a month to go in the first year of the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, it appears Consumers’ Choice Health Plan, a newcomer to South Carolina, has made an immediate impact.

The nonprofit co-op isn’t releasing policy numbers, but Consumers’ Choice says it has sold more than 50 percent of the plans purchased in South Carolina.

When South Carolinians go on the Health Insurance Marketplace, they have choices of policies from four organizations. There are well-known entities – two from the BlueCross BlueShield family and one from Coventry, which was acquired by insurance giant Aetna last year. And then there’s Consumers’ Choice, which was created last year specifically for the marketplace.

State and federal government statistics – which combine sales from all four groups – indicate 47,641 people in South Carolina had signed up for and selected policies on the marketplace by Feb. 1. Only 30,076, or 63 percent, had actually paid the first premium, which state officials point to as the more important number.

Consumers’ Choice says the percentage of its policies that have been paid for is much higher than 63 percent. The co-op estimates it will have sold more than 25,000 policies by the end of March.

“Our price point has a lot to do with it,” said Adrian Grimes, spokeswoman for Consumers’ Choice.

The co-op offers two of the three cheapest monthly premiums available in South Carolina at each of the three levels of coverage – bronze, silver and gold. Insurance experts say premium cost is only one factor insurance shoppers should consider, and that deductibles, co-pays and physician networks can be just as important. One way companies reduce premiums is to offer fewer physicians in their provider networks or higher co-pays and deductibles.

BlueCross BlueShield of S.C. and Blue Choice Health Plan offer more plans than Consumers’ Choice at each level of coverage, allowing buyers to cater to more specific needs. But in nearly every case, the premiums are higher for plans from the Blues.

Consumers’ Choice apparently is performing better than many of the other 22 nonprofit co-ops created by the Affordable Care Act.

John Morrison, who recently stepped down as the founding president of the National Alliance of State Health Co-ops, told Kaiser Health News recently that the newcomers have attracted between 15 and 20 percent of the total marketplace policies in the 23 states where they operate. That’s based on about 300,000 people signing up through co-ops nationally since Oct. 1, according to Morrison.

The co-ops were created by the federal government to provide more options for insurance shoppers on the marketplace. They received federal loans and will be operated by their members. They were expected to be the less-expensive option in most of the states where they operate.

“We’ve met all of the goals,” Grimes said.

Price seems to be the key to the co-ops making an impact. The New York Times reported Wednesday that HealthCT, a co-op in Connecticut, has sold 1,700 policies, or about 3 percent of the policies sold in that state. The main reason is simple, the co-op’s premiums generally are more expensive than those offered by more established companies.

“If you look from state to state, you will see where co-ops are priced competitively, they are doing very well,” Morrison told the Times.


Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/02/28/3296112/insurance-newcomer-making-an-impact.html#storylink=cpy
Friday
Feb282014

S.C. Bill Would Allow Judges to Issue Pet Protection Orders

— A bill pending in the S.C. General Assembly would allow judges to issue emergency protective orders for pets who live in violent homes.

S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said the bill is not a joke.

It is a well-documented fact that people who abuse women and children also abuse family pets. They use their victims’ love for the pet as a way to manipulate them, Cobb-Hunter said.

“There’s an attachment to pets and a love for pets that an abuser understands,” she said.

The bill, House 3361, would allow judges to include pets in an emergency order sought by someone who is trying to escape a violent relationship. It also would allow people to receive temporary custody of pets.

A similar bill was approved last year by the House, but the legislative session ended before the Senate could vote on it. Cobb-Hunter said she believes the issue is important enough to try again.

Kim Kelly, South Carolina state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told a House judiciary subcommittee that there was an undeniable connection between animal abuse and human abuse.

More than 80 percent of women who enter domestic violence shelters report animal abuse in their homes, Kelly said.

Women often tell advocates that they do not want to leave behind animals when they are trying to escape a violent relationship, she said.

“A victim of abuse should not have to choose between her own safety and her pet,” Kelly said.


Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2014/02/27/3295022/sc-bill-would-allow-judges-to.html#storylink=cpy