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

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 8:14 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2022 at 8:17 AM CST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WHNS/Gray News) - A newly proposed legislation in South Carolina suggests making it a criminal offense for anyone to ask about a person’s vaccination status.

Under the proposed “don’t ask” bill, just asking if someone is vaccinated could be considered a misdemeanor crime.

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

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 said. “It was brought to us by the federal government.”

Chumley said he blames a large part of the current labor shortage on vaccine mandates. He and others who proposed the law did so to send a message that states have a right to impose certain laws if they want.

Labor law attorney Jeremy Summerlin, however, said he believes the whole idea is farfetched.

He said it’s unprecedented that merely asking someone’s vaccine status could result in physical jail time.

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

He said hospitals are an 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 U.S. judicial system and still exists.

So, if this new law were to pass, he said, 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 said, 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 (proposed) 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 explained.

Summerlin said that enforcement could get tricky, and this 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 them because of this law?”

If this passes, Summerlin said he anticipates a large, looming legal battle ahead.

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