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SC lawmaker questions clarity, legality of mask proviso

Rep. Annie McDaniel is requesting the Attorney General's opinion and interpretation of the school mask proviso with a focus on the words "appropriated funds".

COLUMBIA, S.C. — More questions are being raised about the budget proviso preventing South Carolina schools from using state funds to mandate masks.

Some lawmakers believe they may have found a loophole.

"The text is a little vague and just not clear. Otherwise, I think the Attorney General would have responded to my questions by now," said State Representative Annie McDaniel of District 41 - Chester, Fairfield & Richland Counties.

July 29, McDaniel wrote a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson.

In it, she requested his opinion and interpretation of the school mask proviso with a focus on the words "appropriated funds."

RELATED: Mayor's school mask mandate draws applause, criticism from lawmakers

She wonders if the wording suggests schools can't use state-allocated funds, what about other sources like county taxes or federal funding?

"The school districts received federal funds that they can utilize for whatever methods they choose to recover from this pandemic," said McDaniel. "So, is the state tying the hands of the federal dollars also? I am waiting for the answer."

Credit: Annie McDaniel

She also asked the Attorney General if the proviso prevents the existence of school mask mandates or if it prohibits the use of funds to enact them.

"Are you saying they cannot notify with the money? Are you saying they cannot purchase masks to distribute with the money? What are you saying? Requiring masks doesn't require money," she said. "That requires the board making a decision."

As she waits for a response, McDaniel says she's also making contact with the NAACP to inform them of the current situation.

RELATED: SC for ED calls Columbia's mask mandate 'a great step'

When asked about the mask proviso last week, Governor Henry McMaster said the new law states parents make the final call on whether to mask their child at school.

"The state funds permeate everything in the school. There is no way to uncommingle funds that are in the school processes," McMaster said. "There's no way to have a mandate issued by a school without some way or another using state funds because state funds permeate everything the schools do."

RELATED: Lexington Two affirms they cannot issue mask mandate

State Attorney General Alan Wilson's office told News 19 he is reviewing the legality of Columbia's mask mandate for schools. He's expected to issue an opinion next week.

"I'm very anxiously awaiting to see how they are going to respond," said McDaniel. "It just seems concerning to me that we would make such a decision and tie school districts' hands when we're not sure where this virus will be in December, January, February."