The leader of governor’s committee studying how to best reopen South Carolina after the coronavirus said one of the most critical pieces of unfinished business is protecting businesses from lawsuits if they follow safety recommendations.
Freeing businesses and others from worries they could be successfully sued even if they take precautions against COVID-19 might help inject more confidence into the economy, said James Burns, executive director of the Accelerate SC reopening committee.
“It came up at virtually every meeting,” said Burns, who plans to present Accelerate SC’s final report Thursday to Gov. Henry McMaster.
On Wednesday, Burns and other committee members appeared before the state Senate’s Reopen South Carolina Select Committee to discuss five weeks’ worth of meetings between the government, education and business leaders.
They studied how best to reopen businesses and schools. They studied how to spend $1.9 billion in COVID-19 relief money coming from the federal governments. And they studied how to get more protective equipment for the state and boost testing.
With some things, like liability protection, the group needs the General Assembly’s help.
State Sen. Tom Davis is leading a Senate subcommittee discussing a possible bill. The Beaufort Republican said it must pass during the week or two special session that is likely in mid-June.
With so few days to meet, the bill will likely need to bypass committees in both the House and Senate and come directly before each chamber. Any member of the House or Senate could object to that.
“There is going to have to be a consensus bill because we do not have time,” Davis said.
Davis said it isn’t just businesses, but doctors, community pools and gyms that are afraid to open without protection.
But Sen. Vincent Sheheen said a badly crafted bill could hurt confidence in the other direction.
“They have immunity granted by us to negligently injure you severely and you are going to show up and eat a meal?” the Democrat from Camden said.
Also on Wednesday, the South Carolina Supreme Court declined a request from state Democrats to extend no excuse absentee voting to November’s general election. When they filed suit, Democrats also wanted an extension of absentee voting to the June 9 primaries, but the General Assembly changed the law for the primaries before the justices ruled.
The justices said lawmakers plan to meet in September and can take up any changes to the November election then.
More than 10,600 people in South Carolina had tested positive for the coronavirus with at least 466 deaths, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said in its Wednesday update.
The 20 COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday were the most in a single day in South Carolina.
The health agency also announced it reached its goal of testing 2% of the state’s population – or about 110,000 people – in May.
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