At a time when Americans are being urged not to gather in large groups – and when the governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, has explicitly advised against gatherings of more than 100 people – the 124-member S.C. House of Representatives is being called into session later this week.
That’s right …
According to a letter obtained by this news outlet, S.C. House speaker Jay Lucas is summoning members of his chamber to the State House in Columbia, S.C. on Thursday, March 19, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. EDT. This session – which is taking place at a time when the House was supposed to be on a previously scheduled one-week furlough – is “due to the states of emergency declared” by McMaster and U.S. president Donald Trump regarding the coronavirus (known officially as 2019-nCoV or COVID-19).
“The Senate will meet Tuesday to address needed issues related to COVID-19, and plans to deliver legislation to the House of Representatives on Thursday, March 19,” the letter from House clerk Charles Reid noted. “Speaker Lucas expects the House will address these needed issues and then adjourn.”
“The calling of this meeting will be a great inconvenience for many persons,” Reid added. “However, this action is necessary to quickly respond to the very unusual and extenuating circumstances created by the declared state of emergency and the ever-changing situation related to COVID-19.”
Peeler announced that his chamber would convene at 2:00 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 to consider a proposed $45 million appropriation for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). This appropriation is being pushed by McMaster, who wants lawmakers to pay for it out of the anemic $128 million in tax relief they are providing in the state’s proposed $31.1 billion budget for the coming 2020-2021 fiscal year.
As we noted in our previous coverage, we have no issue with giving SCDHEC more money to address the coronavirus crisis – we just wish McMaster had specified what the money was for … and taken it from someplace else.
Anyway, Peeler’s decision to convene his chamber has been criticized by state senator Mia McLeod of Richland county, who cited the news that a resident of neighboring Lexington county had just become the first South Carolina fatality associated with the coronavirus.
“Reconvening on Tuesday and reassessing on a weekly basis is not our safest or most sensible option,” McLeod wrote in a letter to Peeler dated March 16, 2020. “We’ve just learned of the state’s first coronavirus-related death, right here in Lexington. My doctor has advised me to not risk possible exposure by returning to the State House. I’m sure those orders would apply to many of you who are equally vulnerable.”
Adding another layer of concern? As we exclusively reported late Sunday, a lobbyist from Camden, S.C. who was at the State House last week is reportedly among the 28 South Carolinians who have contracted the virus.
(Click to view)
(Via: Mia McLeod/ Facebook)
McLeod (above) cited the lobbyist’s condition in her message to Peeler.
“Suspending non-essential government operations, including the legislative session, and temporarily closing public access to the State House and non-essential government offices could significantly help prevent the spread of COVID19,” she wrote. “After learning last night that a dear friend and former colleague, who lobbies at the State House – and was there last week – has been diagnosed and hospitalized with the coronavirus, it is painfully obvious that we can’t continue to wait.”
“Every day that we do, we’re putting our colleagues, friends, loved ones and ourselves in harm’s way,” McLeod continued.
What do you think? Should state lawmakers gather in Columbia, S.C. this week or postpone their business until a later date? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our always-lively comments section below …
Should South Carolina lawmakers meet in Columbia, S.C. this week during the coronavirus pandemic?
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Banner: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell