Some on Beaufort County Council bristled this week when Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch suggested the county lobby state legislators to require mandatory tuberculosis testing for Hispanics and workers in the food-and-beverage industry.
Council members at the Governmental Committee meeting Tuesday were quick to dispense with the idea and warn Bensch that government should not make rules based on race or ethnicity.
"I thought it might be a proactive issue to suggest mandatory tuberculosis testing for the food-and-beverage industry, particularly in the Hispanic community," Bensch said Tuesday. "The point is not to discriminate, but, realistically, that is the nationality that that disease is rising in again in the United States."
Councilmen Gerald Dawson and Jerry Stewart disagreed.
"No, you can't single out one ethnic group to administer that type of program," Dawson said. "If by chance you're going to force that issue, then it has to be population-wide. Regardless of what our personal opinions and thoughts are, you can't discriminate like that."
On Friday, Bensch defended her pitch for mandatory tuberculosis testing for food-and-beverage workers, but she stepped back from her assertion about the Hispanic community.
Instead of singling out one race or ethnicity, Bensch said she intended to make a more general point about immigrants from poorer countries entering the U.S. and potentially bringing the disease with them.
"It's really sad to hear a county representative targeting our fastest-growing minority here," said Eric Esquivel, co-chairman of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and publisher of La Isla Magazine. "It's just continuing to perpetuate what we've seen in South Carolina, in our county, of specific, race-based negative connotations around Hispanics.
"Are we in the new South Carolina, or are we in the old South Carolina?"
Last year, 112 cases of tuberculosis were reported in the state, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Three were in Beaufort County and one in Jasper County.
Hispanics made up only 10 percent of the statewide cases, according to DHEC data. Blacks made up 60 percent, and whites, 23 percent.
"It's just trying to be proactive for safety's sake," Bensch said Friday. "I just think testing is something that's simple and inexpensive, and you don't want to do it after you've already got incidents in a school."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.