Newly proposed SC law would make it a crime to ask about vaccine status

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 7:24 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2022 at 11:14 AM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - A newly proposed law in the South Carolina Statehouse would make it a criminal offense for your employer – or anyone – to ask about your vaccination status.

Under the new proposed law, even just asking if someone is vaccinated could be considered a misdemeanor crime. It’s something those who are for it are calling a “don’t ask” bill.

“The government has no place in making you or telling you to take the vaccination, or threatening your livelihood if you don’t,” said Upstate representative William “Bill” Chumley (R, District 35), one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

House bill H.4848 now heads to committee after being filed just days ago. It states:

“…any representative of a public, private, or nonprofit entity…who inquires about Covid-19 vaccination status…must be fined not more than $14,000 or imprisoned not more than one year.”

The legislation is something representative Chumley calls a “freedom and job protection issue.”

“South Carolina didn’t want to get in this fight,” Chumley Todd FOX Carolina. “It was brought to us by the federal government.”

Chumley says he blames a large part of the current labor shortage on vaccine mandates, and says that he and others who proposed this law did so to send a message.

“States have a right to impose certain laws if they want to, and to not impose others we feel are unconstitutional,” he said.

Not everyone sees it that way though.

“When you work it out practically, how it would play out in the real world, it’s insane,” said labor law attorney Jeremy Summerlin of Greenville. Summerlin told Fox Carolina he believes the whole idea is “crazy” for a variety of reasons.

For starters, Summerlin told Fox Carolina he is not sure the states’ rights argument Chumley mentioned would hold up in a court of law – especially when merely asking someone’s vaccine status could result in physical jail time under the new legislation--which he says is unprecedented.

“You put employers in an impossible position,” he remarked.

Summerlin points to hospitals as another example of how there would be conflicting government direction in this case. As of now, a federal vaccine mandate for healthcare workers has been upheld by the US judicial system and still exists.

So if this new law were to pass, he says, would hospitals have to follow the state law, or would they opt instead to continue to comply with existing federal mandates? It’s difficult, he says, when not complying with a federal mandate could lose you millions of dollars in funding. But the alternative could be just as worse.

“You’ve got a state law now that says that if you ask about that, and try to comply with federal law, then you are going to jail.”

Summerlin also says that enforcement could get tricky, especially in a state like South Carolina, which ordinarily prides itself in not interfering with private businesses, and letting independent business owners operate with freedom. He says this could could all be a dangerous road to go down.

“What if you ask your coworker about their vaccination status, and you are just having a conversation?” he posed. “What if you are a nurse and you ask a fellow nurse about it? Do you want the local law enforcement to go in and arrest of them because of this law?”

“There are so many other things wrong right now, so many ordinary people hurting, so many better uses of time, than wasting it on a state law that would prosecute anyone who asks some someone if they’re vaccinated,” he concluded.

For his part, Chumley told Fox Carolina that South Carolina never ever wanted to get involved in the affairs of private businesses, but felt the need to do so this time to protect employees’ choices.

Summerlin says that the argument of many politicians like Chumley about vaccine mandates being “government overreach” could be turned around and used against them with the same logic here; some people might view this potential new law as the government stepping in to “mandate” what medical information employers can and cannot ask for.

He says that if this passes, he anticipates a large, looming legal battle ahead.

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