Leave it to Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville) to find yet another chink in our collective moral armor. Fair's mission seems to be to outlaw all things sexual -- be they hetero, homo or somewhere in between.
Fair's latest bill (H. 398) amends the indecent exposure law to add "public indecency" and stiffens the penalties. If in public, the bill proposes, one must keep a "fully opaque covering over all parts of the nipple" and "avoid the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state."
If caught with obvious nipples or an erection, you can be sentenced to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. You can get the same penalty for public intercourse, deviate sexual conduct and the fondling of your own or anyone else's genitals.
Doing any of the above in your picture window (as opposed to the sidewalk) only gets you 60 days and a $500 fine.
Wonder if the cops will stake out strip joints in the hope of catching turgid crotches.
SHARING THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN
The House Constitutional Laws Subcommittee held a hearing late last month to solicit citizen input on a bill introduced by Rep. Hunter Limbaugh (R-Florence) and modeled after the California ballot initiative that banned affirmative action in that state.
The five white men on the committee all echoed chairman Limbaugh's belief that "It's wrong to treat people differently because of race and gender," and propose ending preferential treatment.
The hearing was a study in subjective reality. Limbaugh argued that his proposal would not end the state's moral commitment to affirmative action, but acknowledged that it would end preferential hiring or school admission policies based on race or gender. Limbaugh believes that other laws and the Human Affairs Commission are sufficient to prevent blatant discrimination.
Benedict College political science professor Glenda Suber told the committee that "the majority culture in South Carolina has had affirmative action for the past 500 years. It was not called that; it was called slavery. It was called Jim Crow."
Suber asked the committee to consider whether the possible reverse discrimination resulting from the current law is worse than the racism and discrimination that also exist.
Limbaugh conceded that the state's demographics clearly indicate that blacks have a harder row to hoe, and that women earn significantly less than their male counterparts. "I want to get to the same point my opponents want to get to," Limbaugh said, "we just disagree on how to get there."
Being born a white male would be a good start.
Last month, state Treasurer Richard Eckstrom distributed 655 thousand copies of a 40-page tabloid with his picture on the cover. If you're like us, you flipped the pages looking for your name to appear on the "Palmetto Payback" list.
At the top of every other page is a message from Eckstrom saying, "Help me return $54 million to the rightful owners. Share this publication with your friends."
Chances are, you didn't find your name in the publication, and maybe felt the same twinge of disgust with the realization that you had just been taken in by a Publishers Clearinghouse-style gimmick.
While the state has always published the names of unclaimed property owners, Eckstrom is the first to use the opportunity to honk his own horn. The $90-plus thousand it cost to print and distribute the tabloid came from interest on the unclaimed money, and Eckstrom claims that it involves no tax dollars -- unless it remains unclaimed.
The list of those the treasurer is trying so hard to locate includes such obscure entities as SCE&G, the state Republican Party and four county school districts.
POLITICS ABHORS A VACUUM
When Charleston Mayor Joe Riley announced that he would not be running for governor in 1998, it was hard to say who was happier, Gov. David Beasley or Nick Theodore. Riley offered the Democrats their best chance of beating Beasley and, with Li'l Joe out of the running, Nick tops the second string.
Sen. Darrell Jackson (D-Richland) is expected to be Nick's pick for lieutenant governor (and to deliver the black vote). Phil Lader, Elliott Close, Sen. Jim Hodges and Travis Medlock have been mentioned as safe but really boring candidates. The equally competent, but subtle to the point of bland Columbia Mayor Bob Coble has decided to sit on his hat. So has the firebrand Democratic Sen. John Land, who would at least add some drama to the scene. The honorable Alex Sanders is the most colorful option, and would be sure to amuse us for the next four years.
A name that has not come up much but which may be a good bet is Lexington Sen. Nikki Setzler, who has managed for 20 years to be elected as a Democrat in the state's most Republican district. Setzler has built a State House reputation as an education advocate, has a low alienation factor, and is a palatable option for Republicans. He wouldn't have to give up his Senate seat, which he holds until 2000, to take a chance at being governor.
Gov. Beasley upset many mainstream Republicans with his pandering to the Christian Coalition. These disaffected Republicans would probably choose Beasley over Theodore, et al., but might pause if the option was Setzler.
ALL THE MONEY'S ON BLACK
Ike Williams is known for gambling, but in calling Jim Clyburne's hold on the Sixth District seat "invincible" he may be overplaying his hand. Williams, the Clyburne's spokesperson, is ignoring the possibility that Richland and Orangeburg counties, Clyburne's base, may be cut out of the district in a court-ordered redesign of the voting area. For the first time, Clyburne will face organized Republican opposition.
Rumor has it that Vince Ellison, who has been organizing a conservative black constituency as the African Unity Congress in Columbia, is poised to be the GOP's choice to take on Clyburne. Ellison reportedly claims to have half-a-million dollars pledged by the state Republican Party to support his candidacy.
Ellison was involved in the Million Man March and runs a black economic development line similar to Louis Farrakhan's. He is also a big supporter of school vouchers, a favorite of conservatives. The question remains whether the GOP will stick with Ellison when the Farrakhan comparisons hit the press.
JUST DON'T ENJOY IT
DHEC gave South Carolina a Valentine's Day gift when it ruled that the agency would continue offering free condoms for disease prevention. The policy was suspended when Gov. Beasley complained that condom distribution promoted illegal and unseemly behavior.
DHEC spent $280 thousand last year for four million condoms. That same year, it spent $21 million in Medicaid to care for 2,521 HIV and AIDS patients.
The board decided to charge money for condoms to be used for birth control. Charges will be based on the size of the user's family and income.
To mollify the Bible thumpers who scream that fornication is not only sinful (I Corinthians 6:9,10) and illegal (S.C. Code 16-15-60 and 16-15-80), DHEC-approved condoms will no longer come in colors or be lubricated.
If they can't stop sex, they can damn well take the fun out of it.
LOOKING FOR VITAL SIGNS
What does South Carolina politics have in common with China? We worship our ancestors and don't know when our leadership is infirm. While the Chinese wondered about the health of Chairman Deng Xua Peng, and Russians were guessing that Boris was headed for the Pearly Red Gates, the very senior Sen. Strom Thurmond was in the hospital for 11 days while his staff covered up his absence.
Would Strom's staff let his constituents know if the senator were to actually die? It's horrifying to realize that, with not much creative effort, the senator's staff could hold on to their jobs until 2002.
You may recall Greenville County School Board member Sherry Pace, who was busted for insurance fraud and suspended from the board. The Christian Coalition moralist's removal from the board necessitated a special election, to be held on May 11, in which Pace is running to replace herself.
Pace had to fight the county election commission to get on the ballot. Greenville Attorney Susan Coe argued that while Pace was a felon and couldn't vote, there was nothing in the law that prohibits a felon from serving in public office.
Pace is doing her 60 days on weekends. It cuts into her campaign time, but at least her constituents now know where she is coming from.
Supporters of the "attorney preference" bill framed it as a fight between bankers and trial lawyers, figuring that if there is anyone folks trust less than bankers, it's lawyers. The legislation was a complicated and well-funded assault to retroactively change a consumer law to get finance companies out from under millions of dollars in lawsuits.
A Consumer Protection law passed in 1982 required lenders to tell borrowers that they have a right to their own attorney in handling mortgage closings. It was about the only consumer-friendly aspect to a law that removed interest caps. Enough lenders violated the law to result in 25 class action suits, representing hundreds of aggrieved borrowers.
Rep. Harry Cato, a Greenville Republican who is positioning himself to run for Bob Inglis' congressional seat, sponsored legislation that would limit fines for a finance company that doesn't follow the disclosure law to $1,000-plus actual damages, and which would prohibit class actions. If Cato's bill can save the money lenders millions, they can be expected to return the favor come campaign time.
State House watchers say they have never seen such a "full court press" by lobbyists for the banking industry. Fred Allen, who lobbies for the Republican Caucus and Chem Nuclear, as well as the folks from Nelson Mullins, were on the payroll.
On the last day of debate on the proposed bill, the House passed an amendment by Herb Kirsch that would have removed the retroactive aspect from the law.
Fearing defeat, the money lenders brought in their big gun. Gov. Beasley, whose family owns banks, showed up and worked the floor. Another amendment was then passed that restored the retroactive clause.
Interestingly, the fight met with bipartisan opposition, as 18 Republicans broke ranks with their leadership.
Rep. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) said he voted against the bill because, "This was a bald-faced attempt by big money to screw the little guys."
NAME THAT SLEAZEBALL
This month's Sleazeball award goes to the 15 Democratic House members who voted to give a retroactive break to money lenders who broke the law. They would have made the difference in the 64 -- 51 vote that takes the last tooth out of the consumer protection law.
Last month's Sleazeball, who , before his brain transplant, used to work for Sen. Fritz Hollings, was Rep. John Graham Altman (R-Charleston).