Once again, Arkansas lawmakers adjourned on Monday (Oct. 4) without reaching a consensus on a Congressional redistricting map. What was expected to be a three-day legislative session doesn’t have an official end date.
On Monday (Oct. 4), the Arkansas Senate debated three COVID-19 related bills and passed all of them out of the Senate chamber. While all three bills passed, their emergency clauses were not adopted meaning they will not go into effect until 90 days after the session ends.
The first bill debated was SB 732, sponsored by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, which prohibits coercion of persons to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if there is a religious, philosophical belief or a medical exemption. It was initially defeated but passed 21-11 when brought up a second time.
The next bill debated was SB 730, sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R- El Dorado, which would prohibit employees from being denied unemployment benefits because they refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the bill does not guarantee an employee will receive such benefits. The measure passed with a 20-13 vote.
SB 739, sponsored by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, would create options for employees to remain employed by allowing them to take tests to show they either tested negative or have antibodies if their employer mandates a COVID-19 vaccination. This measure passed with a 21-12 vote.
Both sides of the aisle spoke against the bills, including Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, and Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock.
“There’s a real good possibility that I might be taking care of my kids and bringing something home to them from work because of people who did not get vaccinated,” said Elliott. “There are just two sides to this. This is not a one-sided thing. I don’t consider them equivalent, but there are two.”
“We’ve heard many people in the healthcare industry testify how they’re going to lose their jobs, and it’s heartbreaking – these are our last year’s heroes, Superman and Wonder Woman – men and women who went on the front lines every single day and now they’re faced with a personal medical choice to lose their jobs, careers they have had for years,” Garner said.
All three Senate bills were transferred to the House of Representatives. House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, ruled SB 730 was improperly introduced and did not refer it to a committee. It is expected that will be contested in tomorrow’s full House session.
SB 732 and SB 739 were sent to the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
No action was taken in committees in either chamber related to Congressional redistricting on Monday.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is a senior political reporter for KATV News.