COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) — Several South Carolina lawmakers want to make it a criminal offense to ask any person about their vaccination status.
H.4848, introduced in the State House earlier this week, would make it a misdemeanor crime to inquire about whether a person is vaccinated against COVID-19. A violation could mean a fine of more than $14,000 or imprisonment of no more than one year, or both.
The exact text reads:
The bill was introduced by Rep. Burns (R-Greenville), Rep. Haddon (R-Greenville), Rep. Long (R-Spartanburg), Rep. Chumley (R-Spartanburg), Rep. McGarry (R-Lancaster), and Rep. Dabney (R-Kershaw)
“It’s about protecting people from being forced or coerced into getting a vaccine for purposes of employment, admission to schools, or government services,” Co-sponsor Rep. Long said.
He added that for his constituents it is largely a matter of personal privacy.
“I get calls from people literally every week begging the legislature to take some kind of action to protect people’s rights, to protect their privacy, and to keep them from being forced or coerced into getting a vaccine that they frankly don’t want to get,” Long said. “And even for people who have gotten the vaccine, I’ve spoken with many of them, it’s really a privacy issue.”
A City District Attorney in Columbia who practices in the area of employment, labor, and privacy, said privacy in the United States is a generally ill-defined concept, which can make its application difficult in cases like this.
One area of privacy law that has been attempted to be applied to vaccine mandate issues is HIPAA. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, HIPAA does not prohibit any person from asking whether an individual has received a certain vaccine.
Previously, the Supreme Court has upheld vaccine mandates to protect the public health and safety of citizens. This begs the question of how legislation like this one proposed in S.C. could conflict with the supremacy of federal law.
“There very well could be a conflict with compliance-related things whether its a vaccine or test mandate at the federal level,” the attorney said.
Another concern with the legislation, the attorney said, is the vagueness of its language.
“It is exceptionally broad and it seems like the type of speech it is regulating is not entirely clear,” she said. “I would anticipate that we would likely see a lot more detail on this in terms of what specifically is prohibited and the context in which it’s prohibited.”
She added that she expects considerable amendments to be made to the bill.
“This is a bill that folks should keep an eye on to see how it changes,” she said. “I do not anticipate that it would pass in this form.”
The legislation is now headed to the judiciary committee.