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1 lawmaker stops South Carolina health care consolidation bill that had overwhelming support

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A bill that would have consolidated six South Carolina heath care agencies and was overwhelmingly passed by both chambers of the General Assembly died on the session’s final day Thursday in a procedural move by a member angry he was mocked by his colleagues.

Republican Rep. Josiah Magnuson has been against the bill from the start, saying it would create a health care czar who could take over like a dictator if there was another pandemic emergency like COVID-19.

So when the House needed unanimous support to take up the bill one last time minutes before the 5 p.m. Thursday end-of-session deadline, Magnuson objected and stood his ground even as bill sponsor Republican Sen. Tom Davis came over and held a heated conversation with other party members that had many in the chamber stopping to watch and security sergeants hovering nearby.

After the session ended, Magnuson said he was offended that he and his fellow Freedom Caucus members — roughly 15 of the most conservative House members — had been mocked all week.

Magnuson said one colleague had a puppet with bright red hair, just like Magnuson, wearing a tin hat with a Freedom Caucus sticker.

He said Davis has had nothing but insulting things to say about the group that often tries to use obstructing tactics to stall bills and social media posts that other Republicans say are ambiguous or misleading to achieve goals outside of what most Republicans in the House want.

“They have basically ridiculed me,” Magnuson said. “They have completely eradicated any credibly they have with me.”

The bill follows up last year’s breakup of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control that spun off the environmental functions.

The 2024 proposal would have created a new Executive Office of Health and Policy. It would have combined separate agencies that currently oversee South Carolina’s Medicaid program, help for older people and those with mental health problems, public health and drug and alcohol abuse programs. The consolidated agency would have come under the governor’s cabinet.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster supported the bill in his State of the State speech. It was a pet project of Republican Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harvey Peeler and backed by Republican House Speaker Murrell Smith It passed the Senate on a 44-1 vote and the House on a 98-15 vote.

A stunned Davis stormed back in the chamber after the gavel fell and told Peeler what happened. Staffers in both chambers shook their heads.

“I’m interested in delivering good health care options for the people of South Carolina,” Davis said. “And we had some people over in the House today that failed the people of South Carolina over petty political differences.”

The bill had a tough slog at times. More conservative senators tried to tack proposals on that would prevent businesses from requiring employees to get vaccines that had not been approved by the federal government — a holdover complaint from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others didn’t like their interpretation that the new director of the bigger health care agency could get nearly unlimited powers to quarantine, require vaccines or arrest people who didn’t follow orders in a health care emergency. Supporters of the bill said that couldn’t happen.

The death of the health care bill was considered a win by the Freedom Caucus, which often feels shut out of the best committee assignments and that their ideas get no traction in committee or the House floor.

Caucus Chairman Republican Rep. Adam Morgan said it was a bad bill from the start.

“Sometimes your bills die,” Morgan said. “You play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”

Smith said this kind of move by the Freedom Caucus doesn’t help their cause in a chamber where almost all progress comes from working together. He said the bill will continue to be a priority and that the General Assembly returns sooner than some might realize.

“It will be a six-month delay, but I don’t think that disrupts anything we are doing,” Smith said.

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press



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