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SC News

McMaster, Biz Groups Push for COVID Liability Protection

Henry McMaster Business Thumbs Up
Meg Kinnard/AP
FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2021 file photo, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, right, flashes a thumbs up to lawmakers ahead of his State of the State address in Columbia, S.C. McMaster is pushing state House members to approve a bill preventing lawsuits against businesses and other groups by people who contract COVID-19 as long as federal and state health guidelines were being followed. McMaster wrote House members on Monday, April 19 saying the state’s business “should not be placed at future risk for following the recommended safety protocols which allowed them to operate and employ people during the pandemic.” (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's governor is pushing state lawmakers to approve a bill that would prevent people who contract COVID-19 from suing businesses and other groups that have followed federal and state health guidelines.

In a letter sent Monday to House members and provided to The Associated Press, Gov. Henry McMaster wrote that the state's businesses “should not be placed at future risk for following the recommended safety protocols which allowed them to operate and employ people during the pandemic.”

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee is slated to take up the measure, which has already passed the Senate. Dozens of other states have passed similar laws protecting businesses that follow all recommended steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections.

Opponents of the bill have said existing laws could handle the problem, pointing out earlier this year there was just one lawsuit pending in state court where someone blames a business for their illness.

In a statement to AP, South Carolina Association for Justice, a group that represents the state’s trial lawyers, said it is “deeply concerned,” adding there “is simply no need” for the legislation.

“Businesses should never be given far-reaching immunity from being held responsible for risky or reckless behavior,” said Richards McRae, association president. “It is dangerous to everyone if that happens.”

But various interest groups also want liability protection: In a letter assembled by the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, more than 40 trade organizations — including business groups and food service associations — urged passage of the bill, writing that it “provides necessary, targeted, and temporary liability relief for businesses, healthcare providers, educational institutions, and other entities who have followed and continue to follow public health guidance during the pandemic.”

According to the Alliance, “39 states and almost all of our Southeastern neighbors and competitors have adopted some type of COVID-19 liability protections either by legislation or executive order.”

In its own letter, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce wrote on behalf of more than 250 local chambers, businesses and institutions of higher learning that the bill is crucial to the state's effort “to rebuild our businesses and adapt to evolving public health guidance” in recovery from the pandemic.

In his letter, McMaster — who throughout the pandemic has promoted the state's businesses as necessary drivers to keep the economy thriving — said that 10% of the state's businesses have been forced to closed permanently, and that 70% of those still open “cite the lack of liability coverage as the greatest threat to their future.”