COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As South Carolina lawmakers begin looking ahead to the next legislative session, now less than a month away, one member of the House of Representatives says it’s time for a statewide mask mandate.
Democratic Representative Wendy Brawley of Richland and Sumter Counties, says because we’re seeing a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths that’s much worse than what we saw when things first started shutting down earlier this year, this is a crisis that should be a priority once the General Assembly reconvenes, January 12.
Right now, South Carolina lawmakers are in what’s called the prefile phase. Representative Brawley has prefiled a joint resolution calling for a statewide mask mandate in public places, with similar legislation being filed in the Senate by Democratic Senator Kevin Johnson of Clarendon, Darlington, Florence and Sumter Counties.
There are exceptions for children under five, for people who cannot wear masks because of a medical condition, and for the hearing impaired. For everyone else, there’s $25 fine after the first offense, $50 the second time and anytime after that, you face a $100 fine.
“We are probably one of only 15 states that have no requirement that people in public places wear some type of face covering,” said Representative Brawley who went on to compare the debate to one our country has seen before, saying, “The seatbelt law was very much the same way. People did not want to wear seatbelts. They resisted it for many, many years but we know seatbelts do save lives. We don’t have 20 years to wait to develop a requirement for masks to save lives with COVID.”
Representative Stewart Jones is one of three Republican lawmakers in the Upstate behind a bill that would prevent SC lawmakers from enforcing any nationwide mask mandate, if one is ever approved. He tells WIS-TV, “These decisions are best left to people as free individuals, not the government,” and that, “People need more freedom, especially during times of crisis.”
As we await the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, health officials say our best defense against the virus is to wear a mask. An NBC News map shows at least 38 states currently have statewide mask mandates in place. Those states are highlighted in green. The remaining states, including South Carolina, have mask mandates that have been put in place by various local governments, which Representative Brawley says can be confusing and harder to enforce.
“What you are seeing happening is that, because it’s so unpredictable from county to county, from municipality to municipality – I do think having a statewide requirement shows, first of all, this is serious enough that we deemed it something that should be consistently enforced across the state and it would make it, I think, a lot easier for those individuals charged with the responsibility at the local level to enforce it, if it is a statewide mandate.”
Representative Brawley says not passing a statewide mask mandate would be irresponsible.