Attorney General Wilson Notifies Columbia City Council Its Mask Mandate Violates State Law

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson delivered a letter to Columbia City Council and Mayor Steve Benjamin warning them the school mask mandate they passed recently violates state law and the city must take action or face legal consequences.

“It is the opinion of my office that these ordinances are in conflict with state law and should either be rescinded or amended. Otherwise, the city will be subject to appropriate legal actions to enjoin their enforcement,” Attorney General Wilson wrote to council members. “While we appreciate the efforts of city leaders around the state to protect their populace from the spread of the COVID-19 virus and variants of it, these efforts must conform to state law,” Attorney General Wilson wrote.

Senate President Harvey Peeler and House Speaker Jay Lucas had written to Attorney General Wilson to let him know the legislature’s intent was to ban mask mandates in schools. The attorney general also sent letters to them saying he had reviewed the budget proviso and he agrees that lawmakers intended to ban mask mandates like this one. The legislature passed a budget proviso saying, “No school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its educational facilities.”

However, Attorney General Wilson told city council members that encouraging facemask wearing by city officials and even requirements for facemasks in city buildings and other facilities would not be in violation of the proviso. “Also, parents, students, and school employees may choose to wear facemasks anywhere at any time,” he wrote.

The letter to the mayor and council members concludes by saying, “Please let my office know by the close of business Friday, August 13th what efforts city council will undertake to bring the city’s facemask ordinances for schools into compliance with state law or if any further clarification is needed.”

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