Republicans buck SC businesses to back COVID-19 vaccine ban
A bill to prevent private companies in South Carolina from firing employees who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine appears to be heading for a topsy-turvy showdown Thursday in the state House.
Republicans who typically allow businesses in the state to have free rein are backing the hastily drafted proposal which will go from a subcommittee to the House floor in less than 48 hours.
Business groups including the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce are asking lawmakers to oppose the bill, which also would prevent COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state and local government employees, contractors and public school students.
Democrats suddenly find themselves in an unusual position — champions of businesses and the right of employers to determine requirements for their workers.
"I ask that the business community stand with (Democrats) as we fight against an unprecedented effort by Republicans to dictate how you run your business. Their crusade against public health is an attack on job creators in South Carolina," House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford of Columbia said on Twitter.
Only two other states — Montana and Tennessee — have passed similar bans. Even if the House approved the bill, the Senate likely won't take it up until they return in regular session next month.
The bill passed the Ways and Means Committee on a 12-6 vote Thursday morning less than two hours before the full House was set to meet. A Rules Committee meeting at noon was expected to pass a resolution to allow the bill to bypass the typical waiting period and be heard immediately and stay before the House until it is finished.
The most conservative Republicans are pushing the bill, saying lawmakers need to strike back at vaccine mandates ordered by President Joe Biden that have been suspended by federal judges. They brought about 100 protestors with signs calling for "medical freedom" when the special session held mainly for redistricting started last week.
To defeat the bill, Democrats will need to get about 20 Republicans on their side, depending on who all shows up for the session Thursday. In the Ways and Means Committee, one Republican, Rep. Shannon Erickson of Beaufort, voted against the bill. GOP Rep. Kirkman Finlay said he voted for it "with great reluctance" and five more Republicans weren't at the meeting.
The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and 27 other business associations from local chambers to trade associations of retailers, truckers manufactures and others are against the bill, saying it is an unprecedented step against free enterprise.
"South Carolina has a long-held tradition of being a pro-business state that allows businesses to operate with minimal government intervention," the groups said in their statement. "Employment decisions have been left to individual businesses in our state, subject to what each business believes is right for their operations."
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster may be against the bill also. While he has been forceful against government mandates for vaccines, he also has said he does not like government telling private businesses how to operate. He said Wednesday he wasn't ready to give his thoughts on the proposal.
Even if the bill passes the House, it likely can't go anywhere until the General Assembly returns for its regular 2022 session on Jan. 11. Senators at the end of their redistricting special session Tuesday were wishing colleagues and staff Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and saying they would see them in January.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.