Ballot questions include age of sexual consent, employment benefits

CAMPAIGN 2008: State constitutional amendments

COLUMBIA -- S.C. voters will be asked Tuesday whether to make three changes to the state's constitution.

Election watchers are worried that voters might have a tough time understanding what's being asked of them.

The proposed amendments are wordy and written by attorneys in a legal language that might be difficult for most voters to understand.

Here are the questions and what they mean:

Amendment 1 asks voters whether to eliminate the part of the state constitution that allows females ages 14 and older to consent to sex.

Voting "yes" effectively will raise South Carolina's age of consent to 16 for both males and females, as already outlined in state law.

Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said some voters might be confused that a "yes" vote eliminates the age of consent in the state.

"That's not true," Campsen said. "If this passes, there is not a nanosecond of time where (the age of consent) won't be 16."

In many ways, the measure is a housekeeping one, correcting a difference in the age of consent between the state constitution and in state law.

Amendment 2 asks whether the state should be allowed to invest in stocks to pay for future retirees' health care and other benefits. Other states already do so.

New federal regulations require governments to have enough money to pay the benefits of all employees at one time, even if the state workers are years away from retiring.

Investing in stocks over a long period of time is a strategy to earn a higher rate of return.

If this amendment and Amendment 3 don't pass, some local governments warn they may have to raise taxes or trim spending to be in compliance with the new law.

Nervous about stocks

National financial woes and the Wall Street bailout are likely to have some voters nervous about investing state funds in stocks.

"I'm sure that's the first reaction when voters think about the market," said Broadus Jamerson III, director of the S.C. State Employees Association. The association is asking residents to vote yes to the amendment.

"But the amendment deals with a long-term investment plan," he said. "If the history of the market is correct, it will (rebound) and come back again."

Amendment 3 is similar to Amendment 2. It asks whether local governments like cities and counties should invest post-employment benefits in new ways.

This amendment applies to local governments while Amendment 2 applies to state government.

Already, the state retirement system is invested in equities/stocks, including international ones.