Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday (March 22) vetoed legislation that would refund fines to businesses that were levied for violations of coronavirus directives.
SB 301 would return fines collected by state agencies during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The bill said the fines would be refunded by before June 30, 2021 for violations occurring between March 11, 2020, to February 28, 2021.
The bill does not apply to long-term care facilities, residential care facilities, assisted living facilities, hospitals, hospice facilities, human development centers, and any other residential facility housing 25 or more people. The bill does not apply to fines related to violations not related to the state of emergency.
Hutchinson said his veto was about fairness and compliance with the law.
“The only message sent by this bill is that the rule of law does not matter,” he wrote in his veto letter. “It is an affront to those citizens who diligently followed health and safety directives to protect themselves and their fellow Arkansans.”
“If the rationale of SB 301 is accepted, then it is equivalent to giving the General Assembly veto power over the executive branch in the faithful execution of the laws. The General Assembly defines the law and penalties, but the legislative branch is not constitutionally empowered to change after the fact how law enforcement is carried out,” he added.
According to testimony on the bill during the committee process, supporters of the legislation estimated around $60,000 in fines had been collected.
To override a governor’s veto, lawmakers in both chambers must achieve a simple majority vote of over 50%. SB 301 passed the House by a 67-20 margin and the Senate on a 19-14 vote. Fifty-one votes are needed in the House and 18 votes are required in the Senate.
Supporters of the measure are expected to attempt to override the governor’s veto as early as Tuesday.