Democrats ask for unlikely special session to discuss lifting Arkansas mask mandate ban

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — On Thursday, prominent Arkansas Democrats sent a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and other prominent Republican legislative leaders to ask for a special session about the law that bans mask mandates on a state and local level.

“Not one of us voted for this legislation,” the letter said. “In fact, it would be fair to say we vehemently opposed it, but we are clear it was passed following processes formulated and agreed to by both the House and the Senate.”

The letter was signed by State Sens. Joyce Elliot, Linda Chesterfield and Clarke Tucker along with nine representatives, including State Rep. Tippi McCullough.

“We were in this position once before,” McCullough said. “The predictions say we’re in a more-dire situation at this point.”

The law, Act 1002, “prohibits a state agency or entity; a political subdivision or the state; or state or local officials from mandating the use of face masks, face shields or other face coverings as a condition for entry, education or services.”

McCullough acknowledged it’s unlikely a special session will come to fruition, but she said it was important to do something with school only a few weeks away.

“School starts in 20-something days,” McCullough said. “It’s time for us to take a look at that.”

State Sen. Jim Hendren (I) said he agrees a special session would be effective, and he said he thinks the ban on mask mandates keeps schools from having the power to act.

“If we have a massive outbreak and the choice is between wearing masks and canceling school, canceling football season, I at least want to give local schools the ability to make that choice,” Hendren said.

State Sen. Bob Ballinger (R) said he does not downplay the severity of the virus but said the majority of his constituents wanted the mask mandate removed.

“COVID is no joke,” Ballinger said. “It’s a miserable process to try to work through it. We believe Arkansans can take care of themselves. They’ll provide for themselves.”

Ballinger said he doesn’t think there’s remotely chance a special session gets called.

“You don’t have nearly a majority support for reinstating a mask mandate,” Ballinger said.

In a statement, Hutchinson said his focus is on vaccinations instead of the request.

“Right now my focus is getting more people vaccinated in Arkansas. The best tool to fight the Delta variant and have a safe school year is to increase the vaccination rate in the state. I have not had any local school leaders reach out regarding an amendment to the law prohibiting mask mandates.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, (R) Arkansas

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha is an ADH epidemiologist. She said she can’t say what the state government should do.

“That’s beyond what I can comment on today,” Dillaha said.

Dillaha said masks will be a part of any recommendation made to schools.

“As an ADH official, I strongly encourage—especially those who haven’t been vaccinated—to wear a mask,” Dillaha said

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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