SC Senate objects to governor’s emergency virus orders
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Senate rebuked Gov. Henry McMaster for part of his coronavirus response, saying he should have gotten permission from lawmakers to continue the state of emergency for the pandemic over two months.
The resolution rapping McMaster’s knuckles Tuesday was the last order of business on what appeared to be the last day of a regular session where they had only met two days in the past two months.
Every Democrat in the chamber sided with the Republican governor and McMaster signed another 15-day state of emergency order Tuesday as the Senate met.
None of the senators directly criticized McMaster’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. They did reject a proposal to call for the governor to immediately end any restrictions on businesses because of the coronavirus and not issue any more stay at home orders or rules closing businesses.
But the senators — all Republican — supporting the resolution hinted their constituents felt the governor overextended his powers by closing beaches, boat ramps and businesses and then slowly reopening them with what are now five slightly different 15-day state of emergency executive orders over 61 days. They said he should have gotten permission from the General Assembly to extend the initial emergency declaration beyond 15 days.
“The governor has acted with best intentions, I believe,” said Sen. Dwight Loftis of Greenville. “But I think the governor needs to hear what I am hearing from the general public back home.”
Just 34 of the 46 senators were around to vote Tuesday evening and the resolution passed 17-16 after Republican Sens. Michael Gambrell of Honea Path and Tom Young of Aiken switched their votes to ‘yes’ after initially voting against the proposal. Four Republicans joined 12 Democrats voting ‘no,’ while Democratic Sen. Thomas McElveen of Sumter voted present.
McMaster’s office called the resolution an “academic exercise” as the governor dealt with threats and dangers that changed every day from the coronavirus and the state of emergency was needed to make sure state agencies could coordinate with each other.
“Each state of emergency is different and unique in its reason and purpose as we’re dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said Wednesday.
The House hardly discussed the issue Tuesday, even though three of its most conservative members asked the state Attorney General’s Office if McMaster’s actions were legal. The office said in its opinion, since the General Assembly was not in session and did not act, its lack of action implied lawmakers were fine with the governor’s actions.
Democrats backing the governor said lawmakers would have threatened their own health and safety to return to the statehouse en masse to grant the governor permission.
Republican Sen. Thomas Alexander of Walhalla said the time to deal with any problems with the state of emergency law is after the emergency is over not while the governor is still dealing with it.
“One thing we will not know is how many peoples’ lives have been saved because of his actions,” Alexander said.
There have been more than 8,025 cases of the coronavirus confirmed in South Carolina, and at least 362 deaths, according to an update Tuesday from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.