By JEFFREY COLLINS
The Associated Press
COLUMBIA – For five hours on Thursday, the South Carolina House debated a proposal to prevent private companies in South Carolina from firing employees who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Then, just before members were about to vote, Republican leaders removed that ban from the bill, leaving it only to ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state and local government employees, contractors. and students in public schools.
The bill passed 67-31 on Thursday and only needs a routine third reading today before it goes to the Senate. Senators have already returned home and it seems unlikely that they will address the issue before the start of the 2022 regular session on January 11.
The proposal requires employers to honor religious or medical exemptions and said a medical exemption can include a prior positive COVID-19 test, pregnancy, or the presence of anti-coronavirus antibodies.
The suddenly watered-down bill was a dizzying but perhaps unsurprising end to a 48-hour whirlwind where the proposal moved from a subcommittee to the House floor.
Republicans generally allow state businesses to have carte blanche, and many groups, including the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, have called on lawmakers to oppose the bill. Democrats have spent hours defending businesses and the right of employers to determine the needs of their workers, only to then see the debate change in an instant.
Democrats have suggested Republicans try to cover up their more conservative members in party primaries by hosting a debate.
The amendment that amended the bill came with only six minutes of debate available on the proposal.
“Nobody knows what it is – it’s not a good way to govern,” said Rep. Russell Ott, a Democrat from St. Matthews.
Only two states – Montana and Tennessee – have adopted similar bans on private businesses. Fewer than a dozen states have laws in place similar to the ones South Carolina House ended up passing on Thursday.
Before agreeing to remove the ban on private companies allowing vaccines, the bill’s main supporter, Representative Stewart Jones, argued that the proposal protects personal freedom.
“It’s about whether someone should be able to make you inject something into your body without your own will,” Republican Laurens said.
Democrats introduced more than a dozen amendments during the day which were all defeated. They included proposals to force government employees who are not vaccinated to pay higher health insurance premiums, force hospitals to prioritize care for the vaccinated, make it a crime to have a fake card. vaccine identity and require unvaccinated people to pay all of their medical bills out of pocket.
“If you choose to be stupid, pay the stupid price,” said Representative Cezar McKnight, a Democrat from Kingstree.
Before the change, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and 27 other trade associations, from local chambers to trade associations of retailers, truckers, manufacturers and others, said they were against the bill, calling it unprecedented measure against free enterprise.
“South Carolina has a long tradition of a business-friendly state that allows businesses to operate with minimal government intervention,” the groups said in their statement. “Employment decisions have been left to individual companies in our state, subject to what each company considers appropriate for its operations.”
After being sent to the Senate, the bill is unlikely to go anywhere until the General Assembly returns for its 2022 regular session on January 11. New Years and saying they would see them in January.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.