January 31, 2023

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

Retailers’ Group Says Bathroom-Access Bill Stinks

e32e2c3d665413b8be58df75dcfbd19eGive S.C. Rep. Robert Williams an “A” for persistence.

But if the Darlington Democrat’s track record with his two prior bills that would require retailers of any size to open up a restroom to the public provides evidence of the fate of his latest attempt at such legislation, it likely will go down the drain as well.

Williams proposed similar bills in 2010 and 2011 requiring bathroom access for any store selling “tangible personal goods.” Those bills died in committee.

Williams did not respond to phone messages this week from The Nerve seeking comment on his latest bill (H. 3831), which is before the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee.

The Associated Press reported last year that Williams became motivated a couple of years ago after shopping at a dollar store with an elderly relative who couldn’t get access to a restroom.

It is unknown what the projected costs of Williams’ bill would be to retailers that don’t have public restrooms. The Office of State Budget has no fiscal impact statement on the bill, which was filed March 20.

If you ask folks at the South Carolina Retailers Association (SCRA), they’ll tell you that Williams’ bill – to paraphrase them – stinks.

“It’s better for business owners to decide this as opposed to it being mandated,” said Christie Burris, communications director for the SCRA.

Restaurants and large retailers typically maintain public restrooms.

Burris said if H. 3831 becomes law, it could add a rule requiring a small retailer that has an employee restroom to maintain it as a public bathroom, which would impose additional maintenance and cleaning costs on the business.

But Rep. Joseph Jefferson, D-Berkeley and a co-sponsor of the bill, believes the legislation is needed.

“Believe it or not in this day and age this (not having access to a bathroom at a store) happens,” Jefferson told The Nerve this week. “We just want people to have access to a restroom.”

The bill’s other co-sponsor is Rep. Edward Southard, R-Berkeley, who did not respond to a request from The Nerve for comment.

Jefferson said he has had the experience of being at a convenience store purchasing gasoline and other items only to learn there was no public access to a bathroom. If the bill passes, it would allow people to pursue legal recourse if a business failed to provide access to a restroom, he said.

At least 13 other states have passed bathroom-access laws after hearing from those suffering from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and other ailments, according to media reports.

The states with access laws are Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington.

Supporters of the law argue that access to a restroom helps them avoid an accident caused by their medical condition.

Contacted this week by The Nerve, Frank Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said he wasn’t aware of Williams’ bill but isn’t too concerned about it.

Knapp believes the bill has – to paraphrase him – a better chance of being flushed down the toilet than getting passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

Olson can be reached at (803) 254-4411 or curt@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_curt and @olson_curt. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.

We need your help to continue our mission of holding government officials accountable! As part of the South Carolina Policy Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, we rely on donations to operate. Please consider giving today so we can keep bringing accountability to government. It’s your power, and it’s time to take it back!
The Nerve