Governor signs S.C. emergency funding bill to fight coronavirus

Updated: Mar. 19, 2020 at 2:51 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The governor of South Carolina has signed an emergency funding bill to help with the state’s fight against the new coronavirus.

House members voted unanimously to approve the legislation on Thursday afternoon after the Senate passed it earlier this week.

Speaker of the House Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) and President of the Senate Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) ratified the bill minutes after it passed in the House.

“We are going to punch and counter-punch until we knock this thing out,” Sen. Peeler told reporters.

Lucas and Peeler walked the bill directly to the Governor’s office for his signature, which he gave immediately.

The bill allocates $45 million to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). That money comes from the state’s contingency reserve fund. Lawmakers said right now the fund has $349 million waiting to be allocated.

Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) said this is the first step in fighting the crisis.

“Right now, we want to make sure the transmission does not get any worse and we stop it going from person to person and people are safe and healthy,” Rep. Rutherford added.

DHEC said some of that $45 million will allow the agency to hire more people, buy more protective equipment, pay for staff support, finance an education campaign, cover the costs of quarantine and transportation and any other unexpected expenses related to fighting the coronavirus.

“There’s going to have to be more money we’d have to put towards this crisis,” Lucas (R-Darlington) said.

Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Rep. Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) told House members money would not be a problem.

“There will be no expense spared to protect the lives and safety of the citizens of South Carolina,” he said.

Members on both sides of the aisle said they are anxious to get back to work to help South Carolinians.

The House voted unanimously on Thursday to adjourn until they are called back to Columbia by Speaker Lucas, who said, in two weeks, he will assess the situation, but he is concerned with the safety of House members in the chambers.

Many House members sat up in the balcony Thursday to practice social distancing.

Lawmakers said they will continue to work together as this pandemic impacts small businesses and families across the state.

“We are all on aboard to assist. We know there are problems and people are hurting. I know the legislature will step in and act,” Rep. Seth Rose (D-Richland) said.

Sen. Peeler said he has yet to decide when senators will be called to return to Columbia. He said he is working closely with leadership and other members to determine what the best path forward is.

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