LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Governor Asa Hutchinson made the call for a Special Session official on Tuesday.
There are two items the Legislature will consider as part of the call. The first one will be to clear up jurisdiction and the ability for the state to opt-out of any voluntary federal programs. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is the epicenter of that legislation.
“Clarifying it’s the intent of the Legislature that the Director of Workforce Services has the discretion to opt-out of those voluntary or over the top federal programs,” Governor Hutchinson explained.
The bigger and more controversial reason for the call is to amend Act 1002, which prohibits the state from enacting any type of mask mandate.
The Governor making it clear today he only wants the focus of any amendment to be for school districts.
“There is no statewide mask mandate. I’m not in favor of a statewide mask mandate. There are no government vaccine mandates as well,” he said.
The Governor cited the rising number of covid cases in children under the age of 18 and especially those under the age of 12 who are not eligible to take the vaccine.
This is why the Governor went even further in his call to say his draft bill only includes buildings within districts that have a majority population of those 12 years and younger.
“We understand the value of in-classroom instruction and we want those children to be as safe as possible,” he said.
The Governor said many school districts won’t implement any mandates as covid situations are varied throughout the state. But, he said he wants them to at least have that option if they so choose.
“The local school districts should make the call and they should have more options to make sure that their school is a safe environment during a very challenging time in education,” he said.
Governor Hutchinson even went so far as to say he regrets this law passing and him signing it. He did say at the time cases were low and falling and that he knew the Legislature would override his veto if had done so.
“But it is the law and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation,” he said.
The Special Session is set to start on Wednesday morning at 10 am.