Two major investment management firms that handle a large chunk of South Carolina’s pension plan for state retirees are big proponents of the controversial environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement, The Nerve found in a review of pension and other records.

Of the approximately $39 billion market value of all investments by the pension plan at the end of last fiscal year, about $18.5 billion, or nearly half of the total, was managed by two of the world’s largest asset managers – New York-based BlackRock and Boston-based State Street Corporation, pension records show.

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In a letter last year to Cromer Food Services, one of the Anderson-based company’s hundreds of customers – a foreign-headquartered corporation – said it was drafting a “Business Partner Code of Conduct that expresses all our essential requirements for sustainable cooperation.”

The letter asked the company to complete a questionnaire as “one of the methods of ensuring compliance with the standards” – which included broad categories of “social responsibility” and “environmental protection and resource conservation.”

“We have started to get feelers – nothing required as of yet – questionnaires sent to us from companies asking us what our demographics are, what our environmental impact is, what we are doing to lower our environmental impact – all the things you find in an ESG score,” Cromer president Brent Cromer said in a recent interview with The Nerve.

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If Disney didn't know conservatives meant business, they do now. Four weeks into this national drama between Florida and CEO Bob Chapek, state leaders aren't just speaking out -- they're hitting back. After years of sitting down and taking it when corporate bullies stick their noses in social issues, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is finally making an example out of a company that took their war against parents too far. And to most Americans, who are sick of having their values mocked and shamed by Big Business, it's about time.

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Five days after Kentucky’s Democrat Governor Andy Beshear vetoed the most protective pro-life bill in the country, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature overturned it. The state’s house voted 76-21 on Wednesday and the state’s senate followed later the same day, voting 31-6, to quash his veto.

The override allowed the law to become effective immediately, with Reuters declaring that it “makes Kentucky the first U.S. state without legal abortion access since the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade established [a mother’s] right to end a pregnancy.”

The law models the Mississippi abortion law that is pending before the Supreme Court — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The high court will rule on “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional” with its decision due in June.

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Imagine a small business applying for a bank loan and being rejected despite having an excellent credit rating and strong revenues.

The reason? Its “ESG” score was too low.

If you’ve never heard of ESG, you’re probably not alone. But the corporate and financial worlds are well-acquainted with it.

ESG stands for “environmental, social and governance.” Although there’s no single accepted national standard for determining ESG scores, critics contend the scoring routinely is used to rate companies on whether they have adopted certain liberal values or policies, such as reducing the effects of climate change, increasing diversity on their governing boards, and supporting social justice causes.

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Gov. Henry McMaster reported a collective $64,130 in gifts and covered trip expenses last year – more than half of the total funded by the Republican Governors Association, The Nerve found in a review of his latest income-disclosure report.

McMaster in 2021 received 116 gifts totaling $31,955, ranging from a $5 magazine to a $15,000 painting, according to his statement of economic interests (SEI) filed March 30 with the State Ethics Commission. In comparison, McMaster reported receiving a total of $87,695 in gifts from 2017 through 2020, as The Nerve revealed last year.

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Of the more than $1 billion in state and federal funding provided to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to combat the coronavirus outbreak that hit South Carolina two years ago, nearly half of it remained unspent through February, The Nerve found in a review of agency records.

In documents submitted by DHEC at last week’s meeting of the state Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC) – a 10-member legislative panel chaired by Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter – the agency said that as of Feb. 28, it had spent a total of $636.3 million, including $333.3 million on testing, $134.3 million for personnel costs, $68.3 million on vaccination efforts, and $33.7 million for contact tracing.

As of April 2, confirmed COVID-19 deaths and cases statewide since the start of the pandemic totaled 15,045 and 1.1 million, respectively, according to DHEC records.

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Two S.C. House bills that would temporarily suspend the state gasoline tax are moving about as fast as the rate of fixing South Carolina’s deteriorating roads and bridges.

Meanwhile, the surplus in a special fund created with the 2017 gas-tax-hike law continues to grow, standing at more than $1 billion through February, which represented nearly 45% of all revenues collected since the law took effect.

The law raised the state gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon over six years – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – and increased other vehicle taxes and fees. The next 2-cent increase under the law is set to take effect July 1.

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The state’s top court next week will consider whether S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson could legally pay two private law firms – one of which he formerly worked at – $75 million out of a $600 million settlement with the federal government over plutonium storage in South Carolina.

“That’s money that should be and is the property of the state of South Carolina,” said Greenville attorney Jim Carpenter, one of the lawyers who represent the plaintiffs in the case, when contacted Thursday by The Nerve. “It’s not the attorney general’s money to dole out.”

Carpenter represents longtime government activist John Crangle of Columbia and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation, a not-for-profit organization in Greenville County known over the years for suing state and local government on behalf of citizens.

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Under state court rules, judges must avoid even the “appearance of impropriety” in all of their activities, and “minimize the risk of conflict” with their official duties.

Citizens, however, typically have no easy way of determining whether the income sources of many South Carolina judges or their immediate family members pose potential conflicts of interest when those judges are hearing court cases. That’s partly because unlike for other public officials, state law exempts most judges from filing annual income-disclosure statements with the State Ethics Commission.

And judges also are exempted from having their annual taxpayer-funded incomes listed in the online salary database for state employees making at least $50,000 yearly.

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When the state is flush with taxpayer money, lawmakers can’t resist the urge to create new agencies.

Last week, Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and three other Democratic senators introduced a bill that would create a state agency to serve a group of rural counties, called the “I-95 Corridor Authority,” which would “carry out economic development, health and educational improvement activities which, in the opinion of the authority, will improve the economic conditions in its member counties and are located in a member county or an adjacent census tract.”

A companion House bill, sponsored by Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, and 15 other Democratic House members, was introduced last month.

In both bills, the authority would be legislatively controlled, with eight of its 13 board of director members appointed by lawmakers whose districts include the member counties, and the other five members selected by the governor.

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Another legislative study, another likely six-figure taxpayer bill at the end.

Last week, the “Electricity Market Reform Measures Study Committee,” which was created by state law in 2020, met virtually for the first time with a team of hired consultants with the Boston-based Brattle Group.

Under its contract with the eight-member committee, co-chaired by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, Brattle will receive a maximum $750,000 for “labor and non-labor fees and expenses,” with the possibility of being paid more if authorized by the committee.

Hourly consulting fees range from $250 for a research analyst to $625 for a principal in the firm, according to the contract, provided last week to The Nerve by Senate clerk Jeff Gossett under the state Freedom of Information Act.

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County legislative delegations are again asserting their power over local school districts.

The Legislature so far this session has passed at least five school-related bills introduced by House or Senate members representing counties in which the affected school districts are located.

Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed all five bills – three of them on Monday – though lawmakers overrode the first two vetoes.

Until the mid-1970s, legislative delegations generally governed the counties they represented, including approving county budgets. The 1975 Home Rule Act was supposed to give counties more control over their own affairs, though it didn’t end lawmakers’ control over local school districts and certain other areas.

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BOISE, Idaho -- Stanton Healthcare has been part of the core team that is leading the way in passing legislation to ban abortions in the state of Idaho. Senate Bill 1309, which was just passed by the Idaho legislature, is extremely significant as it is modeled after the Texas law and has already withstood several federal court challenges, including not being blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court or the state of Texas' Supreme Court.

Stanton's Physician Assistant, Samantha Doty, testified before the Senate State Affairs Committee, and said the following:

"At Stanton we believe that abortion is wrong at any point in the pregnancy because from the moment of conception a uniquely distinct human being is created. Although our desire is to see abortions completely outlawed in the state of Idaho, we believe enacting SB 1309 would a huge step in the right direction."

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In announcing last month that the state is expected to receive more than $300 million from a national opioid settlement, S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson said the money will provide “much-needed financial resources which will help combat South Carolina’s opioid epidemic.”

What wasn’t mentioned then is that part of the proceeds will go to at least six law firms with ties to current or former state lawmakers, according to information provided to The Nerve by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

Of South Carolina’s $300 million-plus share of the total $26 billion national settlement, to be paid out over 18 years starting this year, at least $24 million, or 8% of the state’s proceeds, would be split among law firms representing the state, all 46 counties and 43 municipalities.

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More than three months after ignoring The Nerve’s written requests, the S.C. Judicial Department has released an updated salary list of state judges and other higher-paid court staff, which shows 141 employees making at least $100,000.

The third branch of state government responded to The Nerve only after the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – hired a law firm to press for the release of the records.

Under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the exact compensation of a public employee earning $50,000 or more year is a matter of public record. But unlike most other state agencies, the Judicial Department doesn’t provide salary information for its $50,000-plus workers to the online state salary database maintained by the S.C. Department of Administration.

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