MASKS IN SCHOOLS: State senator sides with Columbia’s mayor on issue of legality of mandate

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — Since Mayor Benjamin announced that mask mandate, both Governor Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson have stated that they believe it violates state law.

However, the mayor and a state lawmaker in Columbia believe that it does not.

“The information right now is that these masks are not necessary in schools,” said Gov. McMaster earlier this week.

Yet that is not the view of DHEC who recommends masks in schools nor that of Mayor Benjamin, who has enacted a mask mandate for elementary and middle schools in Columbia.

“The real question is ‘Can the city enforce the ordinance that they wrote?’ That’s something that has to be interpreted by the courts,” said State Senator John Scott of Columbia.

Senator Scott says the budget proviso does not allow state funds to be used to enforce a mask mandate but believes that other sources of funding can be used for this purpose.

“If they want to use local funds to do it, they can do it,” Scott said. “We made no mention of them using local funds. It’s this money within this appropriation.”

Earlier this week. Attorney General Alan Wilson stated that the mask mandate violated state law in his opinion.

Mayor Benjamin has disagreed with that stance and says he is prepared to defend his position in court.

“For people that think they have found a loophole, I’ll say this. You can’t do indirectly what you are prohibited to do directly,” Wilson said. “The general assembly did not want mask mandates and so you can’t get around.”

It creates the question of whether parents in Columbia are required to send their children to school next week with masks or not.

“If I was a parent sending a kid to school, I’d do exactly what I’d do if I wasn’t having this interview. As always, I’d have my mask on,” the senator said. “I would definitely make sure my child had their mask on when they left my car and that mask was still on when I picked them up in the afternoon.”

“Whether there’s a mandate or not, young children will not wear a mask for 8 hours a day,” Wilson said.

Mayor Benjamin has stated that the mandate would be enforced by fire marshals and that failure to follow the mandate would result in fines at the administrative level.

Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said earlier this week that the school district is preparing for both options, requiring masks by law or strongly encouraging masks but not requiring them.

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