On October 1st, Arkansas state lawmakers have reconvened at the state’s Capitol for an extended session. The Legislature redrew a new congressional map and voted on three COVID-19-related bills. The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor heard testimony from both sides of Senate Bill 732, Senate Bill 730, and Senate Bill 739.
Senate Bill 732 — prohibits the coercion of individuals from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I need you all to vote to protect the citizens of Arkansas today,” a witness pleading for Senate Bill 732 said. Senator Blake Johnson, a sponsor for Senate Bill 732, stated that the said bill seeks to protect individual freedoms, liberties, and the people in Arkansas. “But are we listening to the professionals? Are we listening to the constitutional attorneys whether or not these laws are constitutional,” a witness who spoke against Senate Bill 732 said.
Senate Bill 730 — allows individuals to avail unemployment benefits if they get terminated for refusing to obtain the vaccine.
State Senator Trent Garner, a sponsor for Senate Bill 730, stated, “If you were fired for COVID reasons, specifically for not taken the vaccine, that’s a termination, and you can get those benefits.”
Senate Bill 739 — provides employees with exemptions from federal and employer-mandated vaccines. Among these exclusions is the provision of a weekly negative test, which may be reimbursed using COVID-19 relief funds.
“I am testifying against from the standpoint that we feel that the costs would be significant and that the American Rescue Plans may not be adequate,” a representative from the Department of Finance and Administration testified against the bill.
All three bills were submitted to the committee and now head to the Senate floor.
Moreover, the Legislature must redraw a new congressional district map during the extended session; this occurs every ten years when the United States census data is released. So far, a map has not yet been introduced on the House or Senate floor. On Monday, both the Senate and the House will reassemble.