Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

State Republicans last week put on an hours-long song and dance routine against business vaccine mandates on the floor of the state House of Representatives. But about four hours and 30 minutes in, realizing their screwy political maneuver was set to fail, they abruptly called the whole thing off.

A bill filed a year before it suddenly was put on a Dec. 9 House committee docket would have prohibited political subdivisions from accepting federal funds to enforce federal vaccine mandates to slow the spread of COVID-19. But House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, apparently thought the bill was a suitable blank canvas to rewrite it to prohibit private businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated against the virus.

The rewritten proposal got a hasty thumbs up from Republicans on the House Ways and Means committee and attracted a few more sponsors clamoring to stick it to President Joe Biden. Then it went straight to the House floor, where lawmakers who were back in Columbia to consider limited legislation to close out the year, but were instead thrust into protracted debate over the bill.

For hours, sensible members of the House from both parties stood in front of colleagues preaching how misguided the effort was. There were even concerns about whether the original bill fiddled with the state’s business-friendly “at-will” employment status.

But they weren’t the only ones in the ears of the robotic Republicans.

In the end, with the writing on the wall, Republican lawmakers pulled a switcheroo, swapping out the entire text of the bill yet again. The “new” new version, a sorry skeleton of a proposal, called for some vaccine exemptions to be acknowledged and let businesses require testing in lieu of vaccination if the businesses receive federal funds.

Yes, the bill passed, but it likely won’t make it through the Senate in its current form when senators return in January. The fact is that this was a bad idea from the start. And the GOP power-brokers knew it.

The day before they met in committee, more than two dozen business groups in a statement told lawmakers that S.C. entrepreneurs had no interest in supporting a bill that would tie their hands to protect their workers and their customers, calling the proposal an “unprecedented step against the internal operations of our state’s job creators.”

“South Carolina has a long-held tradition of being a pro-business state that allows businesses to operate with minimal government intervention,” according to the letter. “Employment decisions have been left to individual businesses in our state, subject to what each business believes is right for their operations. The ability for businesses to operate without government overreach has, and will continue to be, a key building block of our state’s booming economy.”

COVID-19 is not over. S.C. officials reported more than 1,400 cases over the weekend and almost half of state residents are not fully vaccinated. But we do have the tools to fight it, and the employer vaccine mandate is one of those tools. Allowing employers to require vaccines even provides a shred of worker protection, letting them find a safer job — possibly with a vaccine mandate — if bosses are careless with worker health.

The House debate over the anti-mandate mandate was a wrongheaded, shameful waste of time — exactly what we’ve grown to expect from the Republican-led S.C. legislature.

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