Retirement, teen sex among topics

COLUMBIA --- Teen sex and retirement benefits will be among the issues of the day when voters go to the polls Nov. 4.


In addition to presidential, congressional, state and local candidates, the ballot will have three potential constitutional amendments.

One pertains to the legal age of sexual consent for girls and two others link retirement-benefits funds and stocks.

As is typical with ballot issues, the three questions might be misunderstood, or in the case of the stocks proposals, defeated in reaction to the current Wall Street crisis.

"They've gotten no buzz whatsoever," said Bob Botsch, a political science professor at University of South Carolina Aiken.

But that doesn't mean they will fail. To pass, the amendments, appearing at the end or near the end of the ballot, only require a plurality ... more yes votes than no votes.

Minimum age

The first of three amendments will clarify the legal age of sexual consent for girls, say lawmakers.

The proposal, which was co-sponsored last year by state Sens. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, and Larry Martin, R-Pickens, would delete a section of the constitution that sets the minimum age for unmarried girls at 14.

The statute sets the age at 16, except in certain circumstances, and allows a girl to be married at that age if she has parental permission.

Some had worried that criminal sexual conduct cases could be thrown out because of the conflict between the constitution and the statute.

But Heath Taylor, a Columbia defense attorney, said that has not been the case.

"It's a non-issue, at least in the criminal defense arena," said Mr. Taylor, adding that he is ambivalent about the amendment.

"To my knowledge, this particular constitutional provision has not been used as a viable defense in a criminal sexual conduct case," said Mr. Taylor, the vice president of the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Mr. Martin and Mr. Bryant warn that some could be confused about the amendment's intent. Voters could take it to mean that eliminating the current minimum age of 14 would permit girls of any age to have sex.

"Just looking at it at face value, some people may say, 'It should be higher. I'm not voting for this,' " said Mr. Bryant. "But it's just the opposite. This is an effort to get tougher on these types of acts."

If that happens, it will not be the first time voters were confused about a ballot proposal, says Mr. Botsch.

He pointed to a ballot issue that the public passed in 2006, which shifted the property-tax burden to those whose property values increased more slowly than others.

Other proposals

The other two proposals on the ballot pertain to how the government manages its trust funds for paying retirement benefits, which are largely health-care costs.

Voting for each amendment would allow government to invest its retirement trust-fund money into stocks for state employees, according to the second proposal, and for local government workers, as cited in the third proposal.

"That's a great idea," joked Mr. Botsch. "Let's invest in AIG."

He said the historic financial crisis that has consumed the country might sour voters to the two amendments.

"I wouldn't be surprised if that's defeated because of the anger that exists with the stock market now," he said.

Reba Campbell, the deputy executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, which pushed for the amendment, said she has heard similar concerns. Still, she said passage will save taxpayers money.

"History shows over the long haul, it is still a good investment," she said. "We're hoping people will ... look at this with a long-term vision rather than in the short term of what's going on now."

Reach Sarita Chourey at (803) 727-4257 or