COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – The South Carolina Attorney General warned the city of Columbia Tuesday that their school mask mandate violates state law.
Attorney General Alan Wilson sent a letter to Columbia City Council and Mayor Steve Benjamin warning them to take action or face legal consequences.
“It is the opinion of my office that these ordinances are in conflict with state law and should either be rescinded or amended,” Wilson stated in the letter. “Otherwise, the city will be subject to appropriate legal actions to enjoin their enforcement.”
In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Benjamin disagreed with the attorney general’s letter.
“We appreciate the Attorney General’s letter explaining the state’s position,” Benjamin’s statement read. “However we fundamentally disagree with his opinion that our emergency mandates stand in violation with state law.”
“Our City government has a constitutional authority and responsibility to preserve the lives, safety, health and welfare of our city and our citizens,” the statement continued. “This at times requires we must act swiftly and decisively on an emergency basis, and we are assured we are not in violation of state law, and are prepared to defend our position.”
The state’s second largest city passed an emergency ordinance during a meeting last Thursday which requires masks in elementary and middle schools within city limits.
The mayor said their goal is to protect children who cannot get vaccinated yet. The FDA has granted emergency use authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for anyone over the age of 12.
A budget proviso approved by state lawmakers essentially banned districts from implementing their own mask mandates and using state funds to enforce them this school year. If they do not follow this, they could lose state funding.
Mayor Benjamin said this emergency ordinance does not violate the budget proviso.
According to officials, city fire marshals will enforce the mask mandate, not the schools. School administrators could be fined up to $100 if the ordinance is violated.