Special session ends as judge puts mask mandate ban on hold

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 510 views 

A special session ended Friday (Aug. 6) an hour before a Pulaski County Circuit judge issued an injunction that gave supporters of removing a ban on mask mandates hope for the upcoming school year.

Arkansas lawmakers adjourned from a three-day session that was called by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to provide exceptions for local school boards to impose mask mandates in schools to protect students under the age of 12. A new state law, Act 1002, signed by the governor earlier this year restricted that option.

But Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox issued a temporary injunction Friday on the state law banning mask mandates after a preliminary hearing related to a lawsuit filed on the matter.

“Act 1002 cannot be enforced pending further order of this court in any way against any parties,” Fox’s ruling stated.

Supporters of the mask mandate ban have argued the law removes government restrictions on individual freedoms. Opponents arguing for a loosening of the standard said masks protect people and are a necessary tool in the fight against COVID-19, which is spiking across the state as schools are set to reopen.

Attorney Tom Mars filed a lawsuit arguing the mask mandate ban was unconstitutional. Judge Fox’s ruling puts Act 1002 on hold while a later hearing will determine its constitutionality.

Gov. Hutchinson said he supported Fox’s decision, but his focus will remain on improving vaccination rates and safely reopening schools.

“My objective has been achieved… not by the legislature but by the courts,” Hutchinson said in an afternoon press conference. “While this [ruling] gives me authority, there will be no statewide mask mandate. Our remedy is to focus on vaccinations. … Vaccinations are the answer, but it’s certainly not cancelling school.”