Columbia stay-at-home ordinance to go into effect Sunday, despite warning from attorney general

Columbia stay-at-home ordinance to go into effect Sunday

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The stay-at-home ordinance passed by the Columbia City Council earlier this week will go into effect Sunday, despite a message from the attorney general contradicting it.

The “Stay Home Stay Safe” ordinance is an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It means all non-essential businesses in Columbia are ordered to close for two weeks, and residents have to stay at home unless they are walking outside, or going to work or shop at an essential businesses.

“We are about to go into one of our darkest periods in the last 100 plus years. We need to be prepared on the front end, to do everything we can to save lives,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said.

The ordinance will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, March 29.

It will last for 14 days.

Friday, the attorney general for South Carolina issued an opinion saying local governments cannot enact such ordinances.

Attorney General Alan Wilson said only the governor can use emergency powers to issue a shelter-in-place anywhere in the state.

Benjamin said he stands by the city’s ordinance. He issued the following statement:

“The actions taken by the City are entirely within our authority. Our actions do not contradict the Governor’s actions because on this immediate issue before us—proven one of the most important and effective to stopping the spread of this virus, he has not acted.”

The stay-at-home order is still set to begin Sunday in Columbia as planned.

Wilson said he was simply providing his legal opinion about who has the power to issue this type of order, but also warning of possible legal consequences.

Columbia's stay-at-home ordinance will go into effect Sunday, despite a warning from the state's attorney general >>

Posted by WIS TV on Saturday, March 28, 2020

“These could be challenged at a later date by a private citizen that has received a harm by it or been damaged by it,” Wilson said. “Someone being unlawfully arrested, or a business that is shut down or closed permanently because of this ordinance being in effect.”

The Columbia Police Department has not issued a statement regarding how it will enforce the order, but officers said city residents have done well with the current curfew in place and no arrests have been made regarding that.

Here is Columbia’s Stay Home Stay Safe ordinance, in full, as it was passed Thursday (story continues below):

The final page of the ordinance includes a list of essential services that will remain open during the 14-day period.

Businesses not on the list include gyms and other recreation facilities, barbershops and salons, and retail stores for clothing and home goods. Those businesses will have to close.

“People have been doing their part but we need everyone to do more,” added Benjamin.

While the decision has drawn mixed reviews, some business owners are concerned about how the ordinance will impact their businesses.

“Think about if you own a hair salon and you’re in the city of Columbia and someone on the outskirts of Columbia owns are hair salon and they’re not covered by that order,” Jim Wertman, a small business owner, said. “Don’t you think the people from Columbia are going to go to that place to get their hair fixed?”

Those businesses which will stay open fall into these general categories:

  • Essential health care operations
  • Essential infrastructure operations
  • Essential manufacturing operations
  • Essential retail operations
  • Financial Institutions
  • Providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations
  • Essential services necessary to maintain safety, sanitation

Here is a detailed list of businesses deemed essential services:

  • Health care operations
  • Law enforcement
  • Fire departments
  • Emergency management
  • Veterinary care
  • Emergency dental care
  • Medical equipment manufacturers and providers
  • Gas stations
  • Automotive repair
  • Car and other vehicle sales
  • Rental car companies
  • Telecommunication
  • Airports
  • Hotels and motels
  • Public utilities
  • Bus stations
  • Manufacturing and food processing
  • Grocery stores
  • Pet stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Convenience stores
  • Take-out/delivery food service
  • Hardware stores
  • Trash and recycling collection and processing
  • Laundromats and dry cleaning
  • Funeral homes
  • Child care services
  • Post offices
  • Animal shelters
  • News media
  • Banks and credit unions
  • Check cashing services
  • Building cleaning and maintenance
  • Warehouse/distribution and fulfillment
  • Legal services
  • Homeless shelters
  • Food banks
  • Foster care and child protective services
  • Construction
  • Skilled trades: electricians, plumbers, landscape services, pool maintenance, nurseries, etc...
  • Residential and commercial real estate brokers
  • Real estate management companies

After some debate, council members moved to add the following services to the essential list:

  • Travel agencies for the purpose of processing refunds
  • Motorcycle repair and sales
  • Bicycle repair and sales
  • Printing and copying services

Some council members debated the length of the list of essential services, saying leaving so many businesses open will not make an impact on stopping the spread of the virus. They argued closing smaller retail shops and services would not be fair to those business owners when larger stores can remain open.

Others argued the order was necessary to close businesses such as salons and gyms, which have remained open to this point.

In the end, the ordinance passed with only one member voting against it.

“Every single major concern that we have over here, still continues to be dramatically outweighed by the loss of human life,” the mayor said.

Mayor Benjamin said the order will not restrict access to churches for essential staff needed to stream worship services.


The city is already under a curfew the mayor put in place March 18. That curfew is from 11 p.m. each night to 6 a.m. the next morning.

Previously, dine-in areas of restaurants and bars were closed statewide.

Public schools have been closed since March 16 and will remain closed through April, per an order from the governor.

The University of South Carolina will finish its semester through online classes.

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