A faction of Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol are attempting to overrun a bipartisan coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and Governor Asa Hutchinson by stripping businesses of the right to follow public health guidance and jeopardizing state funds. To make matters worse, this specific Legislative session was supposed to be about Congressional redistricting not unrelated bills tethered to misinformation and conspiracies. The measures are even opposed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce!
A Senate and House committee advanced bills, after initially denying public comment, that will restrict the rights of businesses to follow public health best practices. To make matters worse, many of the bills are predicated on the false belief that American Rescue Funds could be used to fund these bills. The state’s own Department of Finance and Administration predicts some of these lazy legislative ledger mistake could put the state on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in costs because of the high cost of PCR tests.
SB 730 – Requires unemployment benefits for those who are fired for not getting the vaccine; this is from a Legislature that routinely slashes unemployment
SB 731 – Allows employees to not disclose their vaccination status to employers
SB 732 – Prohibits employers from “coercing” their employees to receive the vaccine
SB 739 / HB1977 – Bans employers from enacting vaccine mandates; requires them to provide testing.
During the Senate Floor debate for SB732 pre-amendment, Sen. Pro Tem Jimmy Hickey noted that he received a note from DFA which outlined a memo from the American Rescue Plan Act federal consultant. It reads:
“Despite the language of this bill, the Payment of the American Rescue Plan funding to employees who suffer economic losses due to failure either to A) comply with the request of an employee to take the COVID 19 Vaccine or B) engage in weekly testing, both employer programs designed to protect the workforce and to ensure uninterrupted continuity of business operations is NOT an eligible use of American Rescue Plan Act funding.”
“Randy Zook of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce repeated business lobby general objections to “anything that constrains business rights.” Businesses that have adopted rules have done so to protect other employees and customers, he said. They’ve already spent millions to make workplaces safer, but people still get sick because “far too many” have not been vaccinated. He said a poll of 15 senior executives of major corporations yesterday showed unanimous objections to state interference in work rules. “It should remain the employer’s prerogative.” He said national experience with private mandates shows a tiny percentage of resistors.” – Arkansas Times
This legislative push – which resumes Monday – is bad for public health and bad for workers who care about working in a safe environment.