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Arkansas legislature starts special session to talk mask mandate ban changes, unemployment benefits

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas General Assembly met for a special session Wednesday, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking lawmakers to focus on two specific topics.

The debate went on for hours at the capitol and it looks like it will continue as House Bill 1003 to amend the law prohibiting a mask mandate was pulled down.

“We had some students on some campuses where COVID-19 wasn’t in their community and the risk-benefit probably wasn’t there, but in areas where we know COVID is at high amounts we need to give our schools one more tour, they can use one more level of defense,” St. Rep. Julie Mayberry said.

The bill was pulled down to further discuss and possibly amend the bill to ease some concerns of representatives.

A couple of ideas proposed were to cap mandates at 30 days instead of 60 and even shutting down extracurricular activities if a mandate goes into place.

Both chambers passed out a bill specifying the director of workforce services can opt-out of any federal voluntary programs and this would retroactively go into effect when the original opt-out took place.

Hutchinson is asking both houses to review and amend Act 1002, which bans mask mandates by the state or any other public entity.

The governor is looking for the measure to be updated to allow for local school districts to be able to set their own policies. Hutchinson contends that since children under 12 are not eligible for any of the COVID-19 vaccines, allowing schools to implement mask requirements would help protect younger students.

Coverage of the Senate will be streamed in the player at the top of this page, with coverage of the House sessions in the player below.

Both Arkansas State House and State Senate have 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)

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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