During her time in office, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said, “[South Carolina] ‘absolutely’ has a responsibility to protect vulnerable adults just as much as it does to protect children.” In accordance to South Carolina law, in this statement Haley is referring to individuals with intellectual disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury and head and spinal cord injury. The comparison of intellectually disabled adults to children may be offensive and ignorant, though common, but during her time in office there was a bipartisan attempt to take responsibility. For example, during the last legislative year, Senator John Scott (D-Richland) filed a bill that, if it had passed, would have put the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (SCDDSN) in the governor’s cabinet. This year, just before Haley resigned from her governorship to assume the role of United States Ambassador to the United Nations, state legislators continued their push to support vulnerable adults. With the bipartisan support of such legislators as Republican Senator Harvey Peeler, the chairman of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee, Scott prefiled a bill similar to that of last year.
The mission of SCDDSN is to, “assist people with disabilities and their families through choice in meeting needs, pursuing possibilities and achieving life goals; and minimize the occurrence and reduce the severity of disabilities through prevention.” Begun in 1996, the SCDDSN is currently led by seven people, one from each of the state’s seven Congressional districts, who are appointed by the Governor. The Department has no identified head and some have called it, “the worst-run agency in the state.” Newspapers also note the allegations of abuse and neglect of the exact people it intends to service.
To some, Scott’s bill seems to be the best available option. As SCDDSN Commissioner Vicki Thompson says, “Right now, the commission acts like more of an advisory board to the agency, and [I don’t] see a willingness to change on the part of agency officials.” A director, appointed by the governor, on the other hand, would oversee the department, serving as essentially the CEO and controlling the agency staff. The commission would then officially become an advisory board. According to SCDDSN Chairman Bill Danielson, “There are benefits to both the cabinet model and the commission model.” The question is now which model do those in the state legislature and the South Carolina acting governor Henry McMaster see as best, as making the SCDDSN a cabinet position would mean more visibility, but visibly without action isn’t worth that much.