Governor vetoes ‘data warehouse’ plan, budget earmarks after Nerve coverage

July 7, 2018

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Update: The S.C. House on 10/3/18 voted to continue Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of a state budget proviso authorizing the creation of the “South Carolina Industry, Workforce and Education Data Warehouse,” effectively sustaining the veto. The S.C. House and Senate on the same day overrode vetoes of parts of another proviso authorizing $250,000 for the Charleston Library Society’s Beaux Arts Building, and $500,000 for the nonprofit South Carolina Children’s Theatre.

In a veto message released Friday, Gov. Henry McMaster rejected a state budget proviso authorizing the creation of a massive “data warehouse” containing sensitive information on South Carolinians – several days after The Nerve raised privacy concerns about the controversial plan.

McMaster also vetoed parts of another budget proviso directing a collective $750,000 to two nonprofits favored by three House members, one of whom sits on the board of trustees of one of the organizations. The Nerve first revealed the earmarks – funding requests by House members for specific projects or programs that didn’t originate with the state agency that would receive the public dollars – in a March story.

The Nerve on Tuesday reported that lawmakers through a proviso (117.156) proposed creating the “South Carolina Industry, Workforce and Education Data Warehouse,” which would link “person-level data” on children and adults from multiple state agencies, purportedly to “prepare the state’s current and emerging workforce to meet the needs of the state’s economy.”

Last month, the South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, analyzed the proviso.

The proposed database would be modeled after the existing “South Carolina Health and Human Services Data Warehouse,” which, among other things, contains private health records of Medicaid patients.

A privacy expert who reviewed the education and workforce “data warehouse” proviso at The Nerve’s request expressed concerns about the lack of specific privacy protections for individuals in the budget bill’s language.

McMaster shared similar concerns in his written veto message issued Friday.

“Under this provision state agencies would be required to turn over the personal information of South Carolina citizens for any reason or no reason at all,” he said. “This proviso provides no official oversight for the decisions made by the data warehouse committee, no requirement that citizens consent to their personal information being released and quite frankly no one to say ‘no’ or ‘pull the plug’ before it’s too late.”

“I encourage the General Assembly to go back to the drawing board with this proposal to ensure that sufficient controls are in place to protect the privacy of our citizens,” the Republican governor concluded.

In separate vetoes of parts of a proviso (118.15) directing nonrecurring revenue to certain state agencies, McMaster rejected a $250,000 earmark to the S.C. Department of Archives and History for the Charleston Library Society’s Beaux Arts Building, and a $500,000 earmark to the S.C. Arts Commission for the South Carolina Children’s Theatre.

Charleston County Republican Reps. Mike Sottile and William Cogswell, who sits on the board of trustees of the nonprofit Charleston Library Society, jointly made the funding request for the library society, The Nerve reported in March. Rep. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville, sponsored the earmark for the nonprofit Children’s Theatre.

“These lines would direct public funds to private entities perfectly capable of raising further dollars without taking them from taxpayers,” McMaster wrote. “While their missions may be valuable, South Carolina has well-defined needs which should take precedence.”

McMaster issued a total of 42 budget vetoes for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which started July 1. Lawmakers dragged their collective feet this year in passing the budget, forcing state agencies to continue operating under the 2017-18 budget when the new fiscal year began.

It’s unclear exactly when lawmakers will take up McMaster’s vetoes, though they are expected to return to Columbia in September.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve. Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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