State lawmakers prepare for S.C. statewide mask mandate fight

Updated: Dec. 21, 2020 at 5:50 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/WIS) - Two South Carolina lawmakers are pushing for a statewide mask mandate ahead of the 2021 legislative session, but three others hope to block any effort to enforce one.

Democratic Rep. Wendy Brawley, who represents Richland and Sumter Counties, says the coronavirus surge a crisis the General Assembly should make a priority when it reconvenes on Jan. 12.

Bailey prefiled a joint resolution calling for a statewide mask mandate in public places with similar legislation being filed in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Kevin Johnson, who represents Clarendon, Darlington, Florence and Sumter Counties.

The resolution calls for exceptions for children under five, for people who cannot wear masks because of a medical condition and for the hearing impaired.

Violators would face a $25 for the first offense, a $50 fine for the second offense and a $100 fine for each subsequent offense.

“We are probably one of only 15 states that have no requirement that people in public places wear some type of face covering,” Brawley said.

As of Dec. 8, South Carolina was one of 12 states without a statewide mandate, CNN reported, though many local communities and unincorporated counties put face mask ordinances into place during the pandemic.

South Carolina was one of 12 states with no statewide mask mandate as of Dec. 8, according to...
South Carolina was one of 12 states with no statewide mask mandate as of Dec. 8, according to CNN. Despite the lack of a statewide mandate, local cities, towns and counties put their own ordinances into place.(Live 5)

But Rep. Stewart Jones is one of three Republican lawmakers behind a bill that would prevent state lawmakers from enforcing any nationwide mask mandate.

“These decisions are best left to people as free individuals, not the government,” Jones said. “People need more freedom, especially during times of crisis.”

Earlier this month, First Congressional District Rep. Joe Cunningham called on Gov. Henry McMaster to issue a statewide mask mandate through the end of the year.

That followed daily reports from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control showing what was then record-high newly-confirmed cases. Daily numbers increased beyond those reports since then, with the highest daily record reported on Friday, with 3,648 cases. That day’s total broke the previous daily record of 3,217 which had been set just one week earlier.

It was the third time Cunningham called on McMaster to issue the mandate, his office said.

But McMaster has rejected the idea of a statewide mandate.

“It is ineffective, it is impractical to have a mandate to have everyone wear a mask, because it is not enforceable,” McMaster said during a news conference in June. “There’s no power on Earth that can follow everyone in the state around to be sure that they are following the rules.”

Though McMaster has consistently urged South Carolinians to wear masks and practice social distancing, he said issuing a mandate to wear a mask and then not being able to enforce it would give “a false sense of security” to those who believe that everyone would be following the rules.

It was up to individuals, the governor has said, to help stop the spread o the virus, noting, “there’s no way we can make somebody do something they just don’t want to do.”

State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said an additional 3,000 South Carolinians could die from COVID-19 by early next year if people do not comply with face mask guidelines in a Dec. 9 news conference.

Bell said that if mask compliance reached 95% in a week, 1,000 of those expected 3,000 lives could be saved.

McMaster echoed the concerns, saying it was not the time “to let up” and warned that the vaccination process would be slow, adding that most South Carolinians would not be able to received the vaccine against COVID-19 for months.

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