February 9, 2016

Governor vetoes HPV vaccine bill

Governor Nikki Haley vetoed a bill Monday that would have offered free optional HPV vaccines for seventh-grade students. The bill now faces an uncertain future, as it did not receive enough votes to override a veto when it passed the House earlier this year.

Gov. Nikki Haley (File)

HPV is short for human papillomavirus, a sexually-transmitted disease that significantly increases the risk of cervical cancer in women. Supporters had wanted the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to offer the vaccines and provide brochures to families of middle-school students as a way to stop the spread of a disease that is disproportionately high in rural South Carolina.

In her veto message, the governor said H.4497 creates a program without setting aside funding for it. “Undoubtedly, once the mandate is established in law, advocates will argue that it necessarily follows that this new program must be now funded by the General Assembly.”

The bill’s language does not require DHEC to offer the vaccines or brochures unless the General Assembly sets aside the funds to pay for it. That did not happen this year. The governor called the concept a “suspended unfunded mandate.”

Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg)

That upset the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg). “She used terms like ‘unfunded mandate,’ to build up her base and rile up people with ripe, red meat terms,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “She used politics again to keep us from taking progressive steps in women’s health.”

The issue is a sticky one for Haley because, as a legislator, she once supported very similar legislation. In 2007, Haley was one of the primary backers of a bill that would have required HPV vaccines for any students entering the seventh grade. That bill died after the South Carolina Baptist Association opposed it for not offering an “opt-out” for students who objected to the vaccines. Haley herself later voted against it, citing the lack of an “opt-out.”

“It was a mistake then, I’ve said it’s a mistake now,” Haley told reporters on Tuesday, “Now that I have a 14-year-old daughter, it is something that is very close to my heart in terms of what I’m going to do as a parent and what I want for my child.” 

Sellers’s bill only made the vaccines optional. “We took every step we could to make it a voluntary piece of legislation. What the governor did was disingenuous.”

The House passed the measure by a 63-40 vote earlier this year, which would not be enough to override the governor’s veto if it were to fall along the same lines again.

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