On Wednesday, Carlos Phillips, President and CEO of the Greenville Chamber and this year’s President of the newly formed SC Chambers Coalition, testified before the House Equitable Justice System Committee on behalf of the Metro Chambers Coalition in favor of a hate crimes bill.
Phillips was one of numerous speakers who testified, including long-time advocate and Chamber Board member, Anita Zucker; Pastor Eric Manning of Mother Emanuel AME Church; Blonde Gadsden, sister of Myra Thompson, a victim of the Mother Emanuel Church shooting; public defenders and two local solicitors.
Some may ask why the Chamber and other business leaders are getting involved and supporting a hate crimes bill. Keep in mind that South Carolina is one of only three states that doesn’t currently have a hate crimes law on the books, a fact that would be used against us by other states when competing for economic developments. The Coalition will continue to work towards criminal justice reform legislation into next year’s session.
Here are some excerpts of Carlos’ remarks to the subcommittee yesterday:
“It is time for our state to again prioritize and expand the dialogue on matters that will make life better for all of our residents. To bring about real and lasting change and economic prosperity to all our neighbors, our communities must be safe, thriving and equitable. And with this base, we can continue our work to correct disparities in education, health and income. Our Chambers believe – as do the businesses we represent in our communities – that these reforms are good for jobs, good for economic development and good for the bottom line.
As our economy transitions from shock to rapid recovery, we thank you for taking another hard look at our state’s criminal justice system. We must make smarter choices about who we incarcerate, the duration of that incarceration and how we can best support their post-incarceration transition back into society. Our economic expansion may depend on it.
The issues of sentencing reform, hate crime penalties and law enforcement tactics are transcending social debates and are quickly becoming economic development imperatives. As the members of this subcommittee and the full committee continue your work, please give significant thought to the following measures to improve our statutory climate so we may better position South Carolina for future economic development opportunities:
- First, review and adjust our state’s current penal code to better align crimes and sentencing.
- Next, expand the number of non-violent felony offenses that could be eligible for removal from one’s record, and third and finally,
- Better prepare inmates for high demand 21st century career opportunities that will reduce their chances for recidivism.
The Metro Chambers Coalition urges continued action on these issues to follow the historic expungement legislation passed in 2018 and the Smart on Crime reforms from 2010. We remain concerned that inaction on issues like a hate crimes law will have a negative impact on economic development – and we may never know the true impact of which businesses never considered locating in our state because of it.
We’ve already seen the benefits of criminal justice reform here.
With the passage of “Smart on Crime” reforms a decade ago, South Carolina emerged as a national pioneer in criminal justice. These reforms have helped make South Carolina a better place to live, work and do business. Incarceration rates are down by double digits, we’ve saved well more than $500 million in taxpayer money that can be used for education and infrastructure, in part by closing six prisons. We lowered the rates of incarceration for low-level and non-violent offenders, and then this body passed record expungement in 2018. Our incarceration rate is lower than our neighbors in the Southeast.
As the events of this summer have brought to light, there is more left to do. We thank Speaker Lucas and the members of this committee for their urgent work.
Rather than continue to fund an unsustainable prison expansion, in 2010, state leaders turned to evidence-based policy reforms and South Carolina has seen results.
Our state’s successes show that forward-thinking policy making can deliver results for our state. We applaud you for tackling these issues and hope we can double-down on the success of previous reforms. Our Chambers are ready to assist your work in any way possible.”