South Carolina Senate president Harvey Peeler is standing firm in his belief that an emergency session of the S.C. General Assembly is not necessary to address a state-imposed ban on some mask mandates in the Palmetto State. Peeler has been under increasing pressure to call for an emergency session of the legislature to address these mandates as cases, hospitalizations and deaths tied to the delta variant of the coronavirus pandemic continue to climb.
Specifically, Peeler is being pressured to bring lawmakers back to Columbia, S.C. to lift a legislative ban on mask mandates at government-run schools, most of which will open their doors tomorrow.
On Monday, four senators – including the chamber’s ranking Democrat – wrote to Peeler urging him to call a “special session of the South Carolina Senate to reconsider restrictions on school districts and mask mandates.” Meanwhile, multiple school districts across the state – including the Charleston county school district – have indicated they plan to impose mask mandates on students, teachers and staff whether the legislature rescinds its ban on such edicts or not.
As this news outlet noted several weeks ago, school districts are being pushed to defy lawmakers by über-liberal SC for Ed – which earlier this year announced its opposition to any face-to-face instruction in the state’s failing K-12 education system. SC for Ed is part of “Red for Ed” – a left-leaning national organized labor movement. In 2019, this group organized teacher walkouts across the state over education funding complaints – even though funding for government-run schools in the Palmetto State has soared in recent years (with no corresponding increase in academic achievement, incidentally).
Anyway, mask mandates and so-called “vaccine passports” have been hotly debated in recent weeks – and a pair of high-profile cases related to the legislature’s muddied handling of these issues could soon be addressed by state courts.
In the interim, the issue has become a political hot potato among legislative leaders …
As I have previously noted, South Carolina is no longer under the perpetual (and legally dubious) state of emergency which accompanied the initial Covid-19 panic. As a result, the “emergency” powers previously exercised by S.C. governor Henry McMaster are back in the hands of the state’s legislative branch.
Unfortunately, the S.C. General Assembly has failed to pass a law definitively addressing these issues. Instead, lawmakers sought to weigh in on mask mandates and vaccine passports piecemeal – on a temporary basis.
To that end, they inserted a trio of regulations addressing masks and vaccines in the fiscal year 2021-2022 state budget. These regulations – called “provisos” – took effect on July 1, 2021.
Unfortunately, only one of the provisos – the one banning mask mandates at taxpayer-funded K-12 schools (1.108) – was clearly and unambiguously worded.
“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,” the proviso noted.
While lawmakers wait for the courts to address their “handiwork,” liberal lawmakers – including “Republican” S.C. Senate judiciary committee chairman Luke Rankin – are pressing Peeler to take action on K-12 mask mandate ban.
Rankin was one of the four senators urging Peeler to bring lawmakers back to Columbia for the purpose of scrapping a “House-inserted budget proviso (which) demanded schools not mandate masks or risk being defunded.” The others were Senate minority leader Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, Democrat Ronnie Sabb of Greeleyville and “Republican” Sandy Senn of Charleston.
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(Via: S.C. Senate)
So far, though, Peeler is not bowing to the pressure …
The 72-year-old Gaffney, S.C. native has the support of House speaker Jay Lucas in his stance, multiple sources familiar with the situation told this news outlet. In fact, one of Lucas’ allies told me Republicans in that chamber were done waving the “white flag” and accommodating additional Covid-19-related mandates.
“I get that four Democrats in the Senate want to continue capitulating to the national teachers union but where are we going to draw a line in the sand?” one ranking House member told me late Monday. “They are already calling for virtual schooling in some districts. Where do they really think this is going?”
Another lawmaker said science should guide these deliberations, citing the low percentage of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the state (and nation) impacting fully vaccinated individuals.
“People need to be getting their jabs,” the lawmaker said. “That’s what this is about.”
The lawmaker added that school districts and other government agencies in the Palmetto State were free to impose vaccination mandates on their employees if they chose to do so.
Is that accurate? Are state agencies (and political subdivisions of the state) allowed to mandate vaccination of their employees? Last time I checked, that was still an open question.
(Click to view)
Even if Peeler and Lucas were to call lawmakers back to Columbia this month, the path toward a repeal of the K-12 mask mandate could still prove arduous. First of all, any attempt to amend the budget document containing this provision would require the approval of two thirds of both chambers of the legislature.
Is such consensus likely in such a hyper-ideological climate?
Those seeking to overturn the mask mandate ban dispute this interpretation, however, saying lawmakers are allowed to address any Covid-19 issue under the terms of the adjournment resolution they passed earlier this year.
“It’s not a supermajority requirement,” one lawmaker who supports mask mandates told me on Monday.
Still, if the governor – an ardent mask mandate opponent – were to veto such legislation, overriding him would require a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate.
Do mask supporters have the votes? We shall see …
Or if Peeler continues to hold his ground, maybe we won’t.
Time could be on Peeler’s side as lawmakers are expected to return to Columbia sometime in September to address the first round of funding tied to the most recent federal “stimulus” package from Washington, D.C. Depending on how the next two weeks go, the calls for an “emergency session” could be rendered moot. Still, House leaders acknowledged the “winds were picking up” on the issue – with one source tracking the discussion telling me there was some concern Peeler was “wavering.”
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 Boston Red Sox lid pictured above).
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