When the legislature adjourned sine die on October 15, it did so with a pair of bills sent to the Governor’s desk. Neither of those bills were signed by the Governor, and neither of those bills included emergency clauses, meaning they would take 90 days to become law.
House Bills 1977 and 1982 are both problematic and controversial.
HB1977 requires employers that mandate vaccinations to allow workers a way of avoiding vaccinations, which may be one of the few Republican-led pieces of legislation I’ve seen passed that goes against the wishes of the business community. If you want to get an idea of just how troublesome the piece of legislation is, just take a look at the chaotic path the bill took to passage – including several failed attempts to expunge a failed vote on the emergency clause.
HB1982 was the congressional redistricting bill that made its way out of the legislature, the one of more than 30 to have been filed. Here’s an interactive tool by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that let’s one toggle between the various bills.
The bill is a mess, and intentionally so. It splits Pulaski County into three separate districts, and for no legitimate reason other than to dilute the voting power of the county’s minority communities. It also makes it more difficult for those in Districts 1 and 4 to engage with their congressmen, because rather than drive across town, those in District 1 would have to drive from Little Rock to Jonesboro or Helena. Those in District 4 would have to drive to Pine Bluff.
The bill also unnecessarily splits Sebastian County. And to offset the population differences, it moves Cleburne County from the 1st Congressional District to the 2nd Congressional District.
You might think the mental gymnastics necessary to justify such changes would impress the Fab Five, especially when there were plenty of bills on the table that kept all 75 Arkansas counties intact. But in reality, those who advocated for the measure were less than prepared and had little retort for tough questioning. But they had the support of a partisan supermajority, and the bill passed with bipartisan opposition in both chambers.
With the bill needing nearly 3 months to go into effect, there are viable efforts to stop it. I recently spoke to one such Central Arkansas leader working to do just that. Kwami Abdul-Bey, who leads Arkansans for a Unified Natural State (AUNS), is working to collect 4,000 signatures from at least 15 Arkansas counties to overturn the legislation via a popular veto. I recently sat down and chatted with Kwami in a recorded Town Hall session that will be released soon. But you can learn more about that effort now by visiting the AUNS website here. You can also text your name and email address to 501-725-1337 to join the effort.
It bears repeating: these are troublesome bills that will be challenged by citizens, businesses, and the legal community. But it’s also worth noting that we did dodge the bullet on some other bad pieces of legislation that were filed during the extended session.
I’ll leave you with a roundup of those bills that didn’t make their way to the Governor’s office, saving Arkansans both headache and wasted tax dollars defending them.
SB 730 (Garner) - Requires unemployment benefits for those who are fired for not getting the vaccine.
SB 731 (B. Johnson) - Allows employees to not disclose their vaccination status to employers.
SB 732 (Ballinger) - Prohibits employers from “coercing” their employees to receive the vaccine.
SB 733 (Garner) - Allows school districts to ignore State Board of Health guidelines on the proper enforcement of quarantine, isolation and disease control.
SB 734 (Garner) - States that proof of a previous infection of COVID shall be treated the same as a vaccination.
SB 735 (Garner) - Requires the State Board of Health to establish guidance regarding the administration of therapeutic treatments for persons who test positive for COVID.
SB 737/738/740 (Clark) - Prohibits the state and political subdivisions, private
employers, and public accommodations from mandating COVID immunization if the vaccine has been tested for less than five years or on the market for less than three years.
HB1974 (Rye) - Allows a student to opt out of a mask mandate imposed by executive order if his or her parent or legal guardian provides written notice refusing the mandate.
It’s a good thing the session ended when it did. An Arkansas Legislature with too much time in session is bad news. Perhaps now is a good time to remind you that a measure to allow the state legislature to call itself into extraordinary sessions will be on your ballots next year. That may just be the scariest thing you hear this Halloween season.