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Arkansas judge strikes down law banning mask mandates

December 29, 2021 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge on Wednesday struck down a state law that prevents schools and other governmental entities from requiring face masks.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox had already temporarily blocked the law in August. On Wednesday, he ruled the law unconstitutional on multiple grounds, including that it discriminates between children in public and private schools. Private schools were not barred from requiring masks under the law.

More than 100 public charter schools and school districts in Arkansas imposed mask mandates following Fox’s ruling in August. Many have since eased or lifted their requirements altogether.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the ban into law in April, though he has since said he regretted that decision and has said he agreed with Fox’s initial ruling against the ban.

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Hutchinson faced heavy opposition from fellow Republicans in August when he proposed rolling back the ban.

The governor said Wednesday that he was pleased with Fox’s decision.

“The ruling that Act 1002 is unconstitutional serves as a restraint against the legislative branch and helps reset the correct balance between the branches of government,” Hutchinson said in a statement posted on Twitter. “The ruling also makes it clear that local school boards have the authority to protect the health of students during this pandemic.”

Fox’s ruling comes as COVID-19 cases are surging again in Arkansas.

On Wednesday, the state reported more than 3,700 new cases of COVID-19 and an increase of 15 people hospitalized statewide, for a total of 585 total hospitalizations.

Hutchinson said the actual number of positive cases is higher with the availability of at-home testing.