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Special Session Day 2: House Speaker sees no legislative options to overturn mask mandate

Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Two bills that would have overturned the ban on school mask mandates failed to make it past a House Committee.

The Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee voted the bills down on the second day of a special session called by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

“I don’t see any other options at this point as far as any other piece of legislation,” Rep. Matthew J. Shepherd, Speaker of the House, said. “If there was a strong consensus that developed then certainly I’d be open to that, but right now I don’t see that.”

Shepherd said that his expectation is that the House will adjourn Friday.

Both chambers approved bills that take a step forward that specify the director of workforce services can opt out of federal voluntary programs, which would retroactively go into effect when the original opt-out began.

On Thursday a senate committee meeting quickly adjourned after rules were presented that there must be a 24-hour period before the testimony can begin on the matter.

Gov. Hutchinson made a statement expressing his disappointment in the bills failing.

“I am disappointed by the actions of the House Public Health Committee today.  It is conservative, reasonable and compassionate to allow local school districts to protect those students who are under 12 and not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine,” Hutchinson said. “The cases and quarantines at the Marion School District during the last week illustrate the urgency of action. If we are going to have a successful school year then the local school districts need to have flexibility to protect those that are at risk.”

On Thursday a senate committee meeting quickly adjourned after rules were presented that there must be a 24-hour period before the testimony can begin on the matter.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas said that there is no plan to respond to COVID-19 in Arkansas.

“Arkansas’s failure to have any type of plan is exceedingly apparent when you look at what other states, including those with Republican leadership, are doing to protect their citizens,” DPA Chairman Michael John Gray said. “Utah is providing N95 masks to every child this school year. Louisiana is directing people to wear masks in public indoor settings, including a mandate for K-12 and college students. Arkansas, courtesy of a Republican Party of Arkansas that seems to glorify extremes and not support those in their own party who want to do something reasonable, is choosing to do nothing for its citizens. In fact we don’t even know where the leader of the RPA Jonelle Fulmer stands on vaccines or protecting our children. We must demand better of our leaders. Arkansas can do better than this and we will do better than this.”

Both Arkansas State House and State Senate filed bills, each has one bill tackling the issue of the mask mandate.

• SB1 – To clarify the law concerning the state’s participation in certain federally funded unemployment programs; to terminate the state’s participation in certain federal unemployment programs; and to declare an emergency. The sponsors of the bill are Senator Jonathan Dismang (R), Representative Jeff Wardlaw (R)

• HB1003 – To amend the law concerning the mandatory use of face masks, face shields, or other face coverings in public schools; and to declare an emergency. The sponsor of the bill is Representative Julie Mayberry (R)

State House has filed two bills concerning federal unemployment benefits, with Senate filing one on the same issue.

• SB1 – To establish the Emergency Pandemic Child and Family Protection for Local Control and Choice in Education Act. The sponsors are Senator Alan Clark (R), with co-sponsors Senator Charles Beckham (R), Senator Bart Hester (R) and Senator Missy Irvin (R)

• HB1001 – To clarify the law concerning the state’s participation in certain federally funded unemployment programs; to terminate the state’s participation in certain federal unemployment programs; and to declare an emergency. The sponsors of the bill are Representative Jeff Wardlaw (R), Senator Jonathan Dismang (R)

• HB1002 – To clarify the law concerning the state’s participation in certain federally funded unemployment programs; to terminate the state’s participation in certain federal unemployment programs; and to declare an emergency. The sponsor of the bill is Representative Johnny Rye (R)

To watch live as votes are taken and tallied in the Arkansas Senate and Arkansas House, click on the links provided.

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