COVID vaccine ban bill headed to South Carolina Senate floor

 A bill to fine businesses that fire workers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is headed to the South Carolina Senate floor.

Lawmakers on the Senate Finance committee voted 14-9 Tuesday to advance the measure, which would also prevent public employers from requiring the vaccine and ban places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hospitals and hotels, from denying people services because of their vaccination status.

The vote comes after the House passed an anti-mandate bill in December that didn’t include a vaccine mandate ban for private employers. 

In a major change to the House bill, private companies requiring the vaccine would now face a fine equal to 10 times the state’s highest unemployment tax rate for four years. That’s roughly $7,500 per employee fired, according to The Post and Courier.

“It wouldn’t mess up our right-to-work state and it would also give those business owners a choice,” said Shane Martin, a Republican from Spartanburg County, explaining how a Senate panel decided to alter the House bill. “If they wanted to fire somebody for not taking a shot … they could still do that, but there was going to be consequences.”

The version of the bill that senators agreed upon Tuesday would not subject private employers to the fine for employees fired before the proposal would go into effect. It would also provide an exemption for companies with federal contracts that require vaccine mandates.

The vote followed about two hours of debate, much of it over whether the bill would harm businesses: “I think we will absolutely lose jobs because of this, I think we’ll lose revenue because of this,” said Sen. Thomas McElveen, a Democrat whose district includes Shaw Air Force Base around Sumter and its contractors.

The state Chamber of Commerce has said it will fight the proposal.

Senators agreed the bill still needs work and will likely see amendments on the Senate floor.

About 54% of South Carolinians 5 and older have completed vaccinations against COVID-19, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

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