South Carolina’s top two legislative leaders explicitly rebuked the implementation of mask mandates in the Palmetto State in response to the delta variant of the coronavirus – a significant escalation of a debate that has been raging across state government for the past week.
In a letter sent Friday afternoon to S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson, speaker of the House Jay Lucas and Senate president Harvey Peeler wrote that a mask mandate pushed by Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin was “in clear and deliberate violation” of regulations they inserted into the fiscal year 2021-2022 state budget.
One of those regulations – budget proviso 1.108 – addressed government-run schools under the purview of the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE). This proviso held that “no school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities.”
Does this prohibition extend to municipal governments?
Lucas and Peeler apparently think so, telling Wilson the intention of the legislature to ban mask mandates across all political subdivisions of the state was “clear and unambiguous.”
Was it, though?
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Speaker of the House)
The letter from these two powerful lawmakers comes as Wilson’s office is preparing to do battle with Democratic state senator Dick Harpootlian before the S.C. supreme court.
At issue? A mask mandate imposed – and later rescinded – by the University of South Carolina which would have applied to all students, faculty and staff for the upcoming fall semester. Wilson opined that lawmakers intended to ban such mandates across state government – a view which would seem to be affirmed by the letter from Lucas and Peeler.
Previously, Wilson issued an advisory opinion warning the College of Charleston that it was running afoul of state law in attempting to impose testing requirements on unvaccinated students this fall. Students who failed to abide by these requirements would have been subjected to unspecified sanctions.
Like South Carolina, the College of Charleston backed down from its Covid-19 protocols upon receiving Wilson’s opinion.
Wilson has yet to issue an opinion on the city of Columbia mask mandate. Similarly, he has yet to issue an opinion on a controversial “no jab, no job” policy that appears to have resulted in five people being fired from their positions at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) last month.
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I suspect the letter from Lucas and Peeler will make Wilson’s deliberations on those two pending questions much easier, but a critical question remains unresolved: Can the “intent” of the legislature be enforced if members of the S.C. General Assembly utterly and completely screwed the pooch in articulating it?
In other words, just because lawmakers say they intended to ban mask mandates and vaccine passports in the Palmetto State … does that mean they actually did it?
Does wishing make it so?
Unfortunately for Lucas and Peeler, the specific wording of these provisos – and their ability to be enforced – remains murky at best.
“The wording of (these) regulations veers in a most undisciplined manner from confusing and obtuse in some places to narrow and needlessly specific in others,” I noted in a post on this debate earlier this week.
But then again, what has the S.C. General Assembly gotten right recently? Not much …
Lawmakers could have addressed mask mandates and vaccine passports across state government by passing permanent legislation clarifying their position on the issue. Instead, they attempted to handle the issue piecemeal using temporary edicts addressing specific agencies.
Clearly, that plan has backfired …
“Laws are not enforced on the basis of what politicians say about them after the fact,” I noted earlier today. “Or at least they shouldn’t be.“
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that St. Louis Browns’ lid pictured above).
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