To the Contrary

The payday lending bill

The payday loan bill passed by the South Carolina House of Representatives addresses a few of the industry's shortcomings but hardly enough. The Senate should strengthen the bill on behalf of consumers. More safeguards are needed, particularly in the face of ongoing economic woes and the rising rate of joblessness.

On the plus side, the bill prohibits multiple concurrent loans and establishes a database so that lending information is available industry-wide. It allows for a two-week, penalty-free, extended payment plan for those who can't meet their deadline.

But advocates for those who have been victimized by predatory lending contend that the bill doesn't go far enough -- certainly not as far as the vast majority of states have gone. The national trend is to significantly restrict or to outlaw payday lending. North Carolina and Georgia have virtually eliminated the practice. ...

South Carolina should provide restrictions that will better protect consumers who are particularly vulnerable to predatory lending. The Senate, which passed a stronger bill last year only to see it defeated by the House, should try again.

The Senate should resist the intense lobbying effort on behalf of this bill by the payday lending industry. It should approve legislation that really protects the state's consumers.

School district audits

School districts shouldn't have to pay for additional audits when a more open spending process would produce the necessary result.

State Rep. Joey Millwood has introduced a bill that would force school districts to pay the Legislative Audit Council to study their spending. He wants the council to audit 20 percent of the state's school districts each year. ...

School districts are already subject to independent financial audits, but these audits aren't the same as those Millwood suggests. Those audits simply look for correct bookkeeping. They ensure the district is spending its money legally and according to the budget the board of trustees approved.

The Legislative Audit Council would study the operations of the district and look for opportunities to increase efficiency, reduce waste and provide better service. It would provide a fresh perspective on those operations.

There is merit in this idea, but the audits would be expensive at a time when school budgets have been cut.

There is a less expensive alternative -- a free alternative.

District spending should be exposed to more public scrutiny. ...

State audits aren't a bad idea, but more openness is a better idea. And it's much less expensive.

On the Net:

Aiken Standard on McMaster's Middle Court proposal, Feb. 13:

Attorney General Henry McMaster has an idea he thinks will improve our courts as well as our prisons. The attorney general wants to eliminate parole in South Carolina prisons and require those who are incarcerated to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

At the same time he wants to lighten the load on our prisons by establishing a Middle Court system that would provide for tough supervision of many nonviolent offenders without the need for putting them behind bars. Such a system would require $3,250 for each inmate to go through the 18-month process of Middle Court. That compares to the $16,000 per year the State must spend for each inmate in the prison system. ...

There is much good that will come out of Mr. McMaster's proposal. A whole category of convicted individuals who pose no physical threat can spend their sentences improving themselves and making restitution rather than being a financial burden on the state. ...

Judges will know with relative certainty that a criminal will serve the sentence that is handed down.

The people of South Carolina will not have to spend as much of their resources on the Department of Corrections.

These are all good things for our state and should be adopted by our Legislature. Bills for the Middle Court and removal of parole are in both the House and Senate in Columbia. Our General Assembly should pass this legislation for the good of the entire state.

On the Net: