Arkansas governor calls for special session to create exception to mask mandate ban

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Move would give public schools authority to require students younger than 12 to wear a mask.

FILE – In this Tuesday, June 22, 2021, file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Hutchinson is set to become the new chairman of the National Governors Association, which has been focused on states’ response to the coronavirus since the pandemic erupted across the U.S. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson is calling for a special session on Wednesday, August 4, to create an exception to Act 1002 — the mask mandate ban — that will give public school boards flexibility to to protect schoolchildren who are 11 and younger and not eligible to receive the vaccine.

Act 1002, which prohibits state and local government, including school boards, from requiring people to wear a mask, was signed into law by Hutchinson in April 2021.

Now, the governor is asking legislators to provide an exception to the law that would grant each school board the authority to decide whether to require students younger than 12 to wear a mask.

“Under CDC guidelines, students 11 and younger cannot receive the COVID vaccine, and without it, they are at a greater risk of contracting the virus, particularly the Delta variant,” Hutchinson said “COVID‐19 impact is escalating among children, particularly those 12 and older, as we have seen in the increased number and severity of COVID‐19 cases at Arkansas Children’s during July.”

Last week, seven children were in Arkansas Children’s ICU, and four were on ventilators.

“I understand that some legislators are reluctant to allow school boards this freedom, even in this limited way,” Governor Hutchinson said. “But the exceptions for which I am asking are true to the conservative principle that puts control in the hands of local government.”

Hutchinson is also asking the General Assembly to affirm the decision to terminate Arkansas’ participation in federal unemployment benefit and relief programs related to COVID-19.

“It is more important that we reduce the number of unemployed and put more people to work than it is for the state to accept any federal relief programs related to unemployment,” Governor Hutchinson said

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