Arkansas lawmakers pass bill aimed at weakening federal vaccine mandates.
Arkansas lawmakers approved legislation on Wednesday that would require employers to let their employees opt out of vaccination, an attempt to walk back the White House’s vaccine mandate for millions of Americans.
The bill is in the hands of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who expressed reservations about it at a news conference early Wednesday, hours before state lawmakers passed it.
“I don’t believe in a federal mandate on vaccination,” Mr. Hutchinson said, referencing President Biden’s recent mandate that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing. “But I also don’t believe in state mandates as well on employers and defining the employer employee relationship.”
Mr. Hutchinson’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the bill’s passage.
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Kim Hammer, a Republican, said on Wednesday that it was unfair for employees to be terminated because of a “forced vaccine requirement on them.”
“What this does is protect those hard-working employees who are not looking to leave their employment,” he said.
Much of the discussion around the bill on Wednesday was about an emergency clause, which would have made the law go into effect immediately, if passed by the governor. The bill was ultimately approved without the clause, with the senate voting 23 to 10 and the house voting 61 to 25.
If the governor vetoes the legislation, lawmakers can try again to pass the bill with an emergency clause to put it into effect right away. “Then the door still has a crack open,” Mr. Hammer said in an interview on Thursday.
Employees would have two ways to opt out of getting vaccinated if the bill is implemented: They can test negative for antigens once a week, or they can prove that they have antigens in their system.
Jim Hudson from the Arkansas Department of Commerce said some small businesses were expressing confusion about which mandates they might need to follow: federal, state, or both?
“There’s going to be some questions about how you implement that, and how you implement this,” Mr. Hudson said. “And I think as a kindness to our business community, in particular, our small businesses, our restaurants, our hospitals, if we could give them just a little bit more time to study the bill and understand how to run it in their particular business, I think that would be helpful.”