Arkansas lawmakers back bans on mask, vaccine requirements
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday gave initial approval to measures prohibiting requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination to access services and governments imposing mask mandates similar to one recently lifted by the state.
The majority-Republican Senate approved by a 23-8 vote a ban on governments or private entities requiring “passport vaccines” in order to access goods or services. Federal officials have said there is no plan to require them broadly, but some Republican governors have issued orders preventing businesses or agencies from mandating them.
“We can either address it today or we can allow it to steamroll us over,” Republican Sen. Trent Garner, who proposed the bill, said before the vote. The bill now heads to the House.
The majority-Republican House, meanwhile, approved a separate measure that would prohibit state agencies or local governments from imposing mask mandates. GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month lifted the state’s mask requirement, but said cities could continue enforcing them. The cities of Little Rock and Fayetteville have imposed their own mask requirements.
The measure, which the House passed on a 69-20 vote, heads back to the Senate for a final vote.
Hutchinson had previously said he would veto the mask mandate ban but it has since been scaled back to no longer prevent businesses from imposing their own requirements.
The governor said he would review the measures, but cautioned about the long-term impact such restrictions could have.
“There’s no problem in terms of the present, but as governor you have to think about the future and future governors as well,” Hutchinson told reporters. “What happens in the next 50 years and do we want to have those kind of restrictions on the executive branch?”
Arkansas on Tuesday reported 198 new virus cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began last year to 333,709. The state’s active cases, meaning ones that don’t include people who have died or recovered, increased by 15 to 1,804.
The state’s COVID-19 deaths increased by seven to 5,706, while its hospitalizations increased by 13 to 177. The state administered 19,583 additional doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
More than 637,000 people in the state have been fully immunized, while another 335,631 have been partially immunized, according to the Department of Health.