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Arkansas Lawmakers Approve Vaccine Mandate Exemptions

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 08: A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington, DC. Congress met in a joint session to tally the Electoral College votes and certify Barack Obama to be the winner of the 2008 presidential election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Arkansas House passed a bill on Tuesday that would exempt employees from federal or employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccinations and authorize unemployment benefits for those fired for refusing to get vaccinated. In contrast, a nearly identical Senate bill was advanced by a House committee earlier in the day.

Both Rep. Joshua Bryant, R-Rogers, and Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, have introduced House Bill 1977 and Senate Bill 739. These bills require employers who require vaccinations to provide an exemption process for employees, including requiring them to produce a negative antigen test once a week or proof of immunity and the presence of antibodies twice a year.

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Bills That Oks Employee Opt-Out for COVID Vaccine

HB1977 cleared the House of Representatives by a vote of 68 to 23 and was forwarded to the Senate late Tuesday afternoon. Officials passed the law with an emergency provision, which means it will go into force right away if it is passed.

The House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee voted in favor of SB739, and officials submitted it to the entire House for consideration.

Employees who are tested weekly for COVID-19 or can establish that they have antibodies against the virus would be able to opt out of a vaccination obligation under the House plan. Antibody testing, on the other hand, should not be used to determine immunity to the virus, according to health experts, and those who have recovered from COVID-19 should still be vaccinated.

ALSO READ: Arkansas: State’s Senate Committee Passes 3 Bills Against COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

Arkansas Online said a bill passed by the Senate the day before would have made it illegal for companies to force employees or subcontractors to get the vaccination. However, the bill was defeated in the House Public Health Committee.

Associated Press said the House affirmed Speaker Matthew Shepherd’s ruling on Tuesday that a Senate-backed bill requiring the state to pay unemployment insurance to anyone dismissed for refusing to get vaccinated was ineligible.

Shepherd concluded that the Senate plan was ineligible for consideration during the Legislature’s prolonged session because it didn’t address federal COVID-19 relief funds, which is one of the few non-redistricting concerns the Legislature can handle. To get around that constraint, some anti-mandate initiatives have incorporated relief funds.

Vaccine Mandate Constraints May Jeopardize Healthcare Institutions

According to state authorities, limits on vaccination mandates may jeopardize Medicare and Medicaid financing for healthcare institutions across the state. If implemented, such restrictions, according to business groups, may force firms to choose between complying with state and federal laws.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has slammed Biden’s directive, has spoken out against the opt-out provisions, claiming that they will result in additional regulations for small businesses.

The idea is in doubt in the Senate, where an identical bill passed Monday but fell short of the two-thirds majority required to take effect immediately. If the law is passed without that threshold, it will not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

RELATED ARTICLE: Arkansas COVID-19 Update: Delta Variant’s Devastating Impact Among Children, New Data Reveals

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