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Lawmakers advance Columbia attorney’s nomination for DHEC board chair

Published: Feb. 3, 2022 at 8:03 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2022 at 8:10 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Columbia attorney appears on course to head up the powerful South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control.

On Thursday, Robert Bolchoz testified before members of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee, who unanimously voted to send his nomination to the Senate floor.

Senators said Bolchoz has bipartisan support to be confirmed as chair of the eight-member board which oversees the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and has the authority to adopt and enforce rules promoting public health, among other powers.

“You have the ability and demonstrated ability to bring, resolve complex situations in very tough times,” Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D – Charleston, told Bolchoz, who previously served as the state’s Chief Deputy Attorney General and supervised DHEC’s legal counsel in that role.

Before the vote, committee members questioned him for about an hour for answers that may indicate how he would chair the influential board.

“What’s your thoughts on making preschoolers wear a mask all day at daycare?” Sen. Tom Corbin, R – Greenville, asked.

“I think that the making those kids wear masks is much more, is much worse for them in the long run than them not wearing the masks,” Bolchoz answered. “I’m opposed to those kids wearing those masks.”

He expressed support for current legislation to repeal the DHEC-controlled certificate of need process by which hospitals need approval to build or expand and is open to a bill that would split DHEC’s health and environmental control functions into separate state agencies, adding he would need more information, particularly on how the division would affect taxpayers, before coming to a decision.

“That is an idea to me that, initially, makes obvious sense,” Bolchoz said. “Having some sons in the service, I said, the way we’re set up now, from an analogy standpoint, strikes me like having the Air Force and the Army as one branch of the Department of Defense.”

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D – Orangeburg, pressed Bolchoz on how he would handle potential political pressure from the governor, who nominated him for the role.

“I’m not really a shrinking violet, and the governor knows me very well, and so he did not nominate me because he was looking for a patsy or somebody that would do his bidding,” Bolchoz responded.

Bolchoz also said, if confirmed, he would want to put recent statewide COVID testing issues on the board’s agenda and determine what it could do to address the issue; that he suspects more funding may be needed to fill an abundance of open positions within DHEC; and that he believes the department needs to return energy to tackling its non-pandemic-related responsibilities.

“I don’t think COVID is the biggest issue, or it shouldn’t be,” he said. “Now because of the resources that it has entailed and the focus that we’ve had to put on it, but I do think that we’ve got to get back to the business of doing the broader business that DHEC has to worry about.”

Bolchoz will need to be confirmed by the full Senate to become the board chair, a vote Medical Affairs Committee Chair Danny Verdin, R - Laurens, said could happen as soon as next week Thursday.

The current chair, Mark Elam, is retiring and will step down as soon as the Senate confirms his replacement. DHEC board members serve four-year terms.

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