COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A panel of lawmakers in South Carolina on Tuesday tabled a proposal to ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state and local government employees, contractors and public school students.
The bill being considered by a House Ways and Means subcommittee would effectively make such vaccine mandates illegal for state or local public employees, contractors and first responders. Under the proposal, school districts would also not be able to require students to make the recordings.
The draft bill would also prevent private companies from suspending or firing employees who do not receive the vaccine, although it does allow those employers to require weekly tests to adhere to federal mandates. The legislation would offset the costs for those employers by donating $10 million to the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Medical University of South Carolina to conduct weekly tests.
“Ultimately, this issue comes down to freedom. It comes down to freedom,” said Representative Stewart Jones, a Republican from Laurens who sponsors the bill. Jones was also the legislator who earlier this year proposed an effective ban on mask mandates in public schools, which was later challenged in court.
About 50% of all South Carolinians ages 5 and older have completed their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to data from the state’s health department. Nationwide, about 60% of Americans have been fully vaccinated against the disease.
Before voting on the measure, lawmakers heard only a few speakers, including a Charleston firefighter, a nurse and a lawyer, all of whom objected to measures taken by their employers to require workers to be vaccinated against the highly contagious virus.
The legislative effort comes as federal vaccine mandates by the Biden administration that influence the private sector are being held up in courts across the country.
The House expects to bypass the typical rules and include the bill in Thursday’s special session, just hours after it is expected to pass the full Ways and Means committee.
Even if the House approves the proposal, senators said on Tuesday they have no plans to return to the Statehouse before the 2022 regular session begins on Jan. 11.