Columbia City Council voted March 19 to draw up a contract to buy the historic Palmetto Compress warehouse, which its owners had been planning to demolish. “What this building will mean in the next few years will dwarf whatever we pay for it,” Mayor Steve Benjamin told historic preservationists who’d gathered to ask Council to save the building. The purchase price is not yet public. Approving the contract will require two more votes. — Eva Moore
Telling It Like It Is
Call it the quote heard ‘round the world when it comes to the debate over whether to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Florence Republican Rep. Kris Crawford, an emergency room doctor, was quoted by the Charleston Regional Business Journal saying, “The politics are going to overwhelm the policy. It is good politics to oppose the black guy in the White House right now, especially for the Republican Party.” Democrats pointed out that Crawford was just being honest, a rare thing in politics sometimes. Crawford supports expanding Medicaid, though he voted against a recent Democratic effort to accept the money.
— Corey Hutchins
1st Amendment vs. 2nd
A bill pushed by more than 55 Republicans in the S.C. House would make it illegal for a doctor to discuss gun safety with patients in South Carolina, The State reported. The bill has “stunned” some doctors, especially pediatricians, who believe they should have the right to free speech, the paper reported. Republican Rep. Joshua Putnam, a 24-year-old landscaping supervisor from Anderson County, introduced the bill, he said, because “We don’t want citizens to feel like they are going to be intruded upon whenever they go to a physician.” — Corey Hutchins
Welcome to the Drunk Tank
Cops arrested 49 people at the St. Pats in Five Points festival this year, which is higher than recent years. Police busted 35 last year and only 14 the year prior. This year, 27 festivalgoers were shaken down for drunkenness, others for disorderly conduct, and a couple for drug possession. — Corey Hutchins
A national organization has named the Columbia Police Department’s Drug Suppression Team the top Street Level Criminal Enforcement Team in the country. The ranking was based on the number of arrests (more than 700 in 2012) as well as the team’s proactive efforts and “strong partnership with residents in combating criminal activity.” An officer from the team was also recognized for having seized the most ecstasy of any cop in the country during 2012. — Eva Moore
Ex-Cop vs. City
Meanwhile, a former Columbia deputy police chief fired over the botched 2012 investigation into missing lobbyist Tom Sponseller (who was found dead of an apparent suicide in a downtown parking garage after 11 days) has filed a lawsuit accusing the city of discrimination. Among Isa Greene’s allegations: that the city created a hostile work environment, that male officers weren’t disciplined for investigative errors and that Chief Randy Scott overrode her hiring decisions in order to hire female officers with whom he was involved. Scott has told media outlets he won’t comment on pending litigation. — Eva Moore
The Cost of Violating the Constitution
The City of Columbia will pay a $300,000 settlement in the case of Jonathan McCoy, whom cops arrested in 2009 because they claimed he was interfering with an arrest. Surveillance video of the incident showed McCoy didn’t threaten police; he simply appeared to question them as they arrested his friend. A week before the settlement was announced, a federal judge ruled that the city’s ordinance against interfering with an arrest was unconstitutionally vague. — Eva Moore
Spills Back Online
The state’s environmental agency has resumed posting sewer spill alerts online — in Excel spreadsheet form, at least. On March 6, Free Times ran a story about how DHEC had yanked the sewer spill alert page from its website in 2012, saying the page was a “potential breach point” for hackers. Sewer spills threaten public health, and are all too common in the Midlands. — Eva Moore
Early Voting Advances in Senate
The prospect of early voting in South Carolina is closer to reality, at least in the state Senate. “Under terms of the bill, every South Carolina county would open at least one early-voting center starting two Saturdays before a primary or general election,” according to the Anderson Independent Mail. “Early voting would continue until the final Saturday before the election. The early-voting centers would be closed on Sunday and no early voting would be permitted before the state’s presidential preference primaries.” Meanwhile, the House will debate an early voting bill that would actually restrict early voting.
— Corey Hutchins
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