After hours of debate, South Carolina House OKs bill banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates

State - Regional

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — South Carolina lawmakers voted to move ahead with a bill that would ban local governments, state agencies, and others from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine but not before making a sudden switch to the legislation.

School districts would also not be allowed to mandate the vaccine for their employees and students. First responders in the state would also not be required to get the vaccine under the bill.

House Bill 3126 was fast-tracked this week. It received a favorable report from the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday morning.

The bill was then given special order, which means lawmakers could take up the legislation on the floor immediately, instead of having to wait a day to take it up under their normal procedures.

The bills sponsor Rep. Stewart Jones, Laurens Republican, said, “The real issue we are debating today is freedom. It’s a question if anybody should be able to make you inject something in your body without your own will.”

The effort to quickly push the bill through was backed mostly by House Republicans. The bill sent to the floor originally included a provision that would have banned private business owners from firing or suspending an unvaccinated employee.

Some of the state’s largest business groups voiced their opposition to the bill on Wednesday.

“We assert that businesses should be able to keep the right to set their own conditions for employment, and people can choose what’s in their own best interest,” the South Carolina Trucking Association said in a statement on Thursday. “This positions businesses in a no-win situation, will create more conflict in each individual workplace, and certainly open businesses to any number of lawsuits.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, A Richland Democrat, said: “This bill is receiving unprecedented attention, and it’s an attack on businesses in South Carolina and they (Republicans) need to see it for what it is.”

After nearly five hours of debate on the floor, House leadership introduced an amendment to the bill that would allow private employers to require a COVID-19 vaccine for employment.

The amended bill would allow employees who are fired because of their vaccination status to file for unemployment benefits. It would also require private employers to honor religious or medical exemptions. Rep. Gary Simrill, a York Republican, said a medical exemption can include the presence of coronavirus antibodies, a positive COVID-19 test or pregnancy.

The bill also sets aside $10 million each for Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Medical University of South Carolina to help private businesses with weekly testing if they have to regularly test unvaccinated workers.

The House voted 67 to 31, to give the bill a second reading Thursday evening. The legislation will get a third reading on Friday and be sent to the Senate.

The Senate isn’t expected to return to Columbia until January.

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