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Bill would no longer prohibit businesses from refusal to hire tobacco-users

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South Carolina is among 29 states that prohibits employers from refusing to hire tobacco-users, and some argue this would be an infringement on their freedom.

But one lawmaker is standing up for what he calls the "employer's freedom" -- the freedom for private business owners to choose if they want to hire people who smoke or use chewing tobacco.

"When you are running your business using your money, I don't believe it's government role to interfere with what kind of personnel decisions you make and how you spend your money," said state Sen. Kevin Bryant.

Bryant is the only sponsor of a bill that would repeal the decades-old law. His opponents say that creates a slippery slope, but Bryant insists there's no hidden agenda.

"People keep saying I am opening a can of worms," said Bryant. "I'm saying, no, I am not. I'm putting a lid on the can of worms. We'll just end this discussion. We'll let businesses operate on their own, and we'll try to promote freedom as much as we can, and I feel that's what's best for the economy."

Money may be at the heart of Bryant's argument, but the South Carolina Hospital Association finds the bill to be more of an appeal to health. It's why they're backing it.

"Tobacco use is a very high contributor to why our state ranks so low in terms of health," said Rozalynn Goodwin with the group. "When those rankings come out every year, South Carolina is near the bottom. This year, we are number 46 and tobacco is high on that list of factors that are dragging down our rating."

Bryant's proposal will go before a state subcommittee Wednesday in Columbia.

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