Less than 24 hours before likely passage of business-hampering, anti-vaccination legislation by the rogue Arkansas legislature, Governor Hutchinson emerged from seclusion to speak ill of the demagoguery.
It didn’t prevent final adoption of the legislation by the Senate, but there was a victory for opponents in defeat of the emergency clause on the bill. That means the law can’t take effect for 90 days if it becomes law. The governor also could veto it, though the votes are ample to override the veto, with a simple majority needed. And procedural wrangling continues on it so the outcome isn’t yet clear.
The House sent the bill without the emergency clause back to the Senate where sponsors hope to try again to adopt the emergency clause, which failed on a couple of tries earlier today.
But back to the goveror.
In statement yesterday to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, after both the House and Senate passed identical anti-vaccination legislation by overwhelming margins, the governor issued this statement:
The two identical bills are designed to push back against federal vaccine requirements but the net result is more mandates on Arkansas small businesses. Employers have the freedom to protect the health of their workplace, and government should not interfere with the employee/employer relationship. We should not fight federal overreach with a solution that causes more problems than it solves.
The statement, which could have been scripted by Randy Zook, head of the big business lobbying group, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, is correct. It is also too late in the game. Days ago, he was saying he hadn’t read the bills. It is a given that this governor holds little sway with the extremists now running the Arkansas legislature.
One version of the legislation, HB 1977, was considered this morning by the Senate Public Health Committee. It heard the same arguments it had heard before and endorsed the bill after 15 minutes of discussion.
But the House bill has an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately. The Senate bill fell one vote short of having its emergency clause adopted.
Perhaps the governor’s statement — along with some tepid objections from three executive agencies and the Arkansas Hospital Association on the cost of the bill and confusion about its requirements — helped hold the line on the emergency clause vote in the Senate.
That debate soon followed. Sen. Kim Hammer, arguing for the House bill, dismissed concerns of businesses that the need for a delayed effective date to prepare for the change. It’s more important to protect employees from vaccine rules, he said. Sen. Dan Sullivan also said businesses could delay vaccination policies to prepare. Sen. Jason Rapert said a business could choose to have NO vaccination policy. Yes, Hammer said, that would make it a “mute” point.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang spoke up for the right of small businesses to make decisions to protect their workers and customers. He said the bill is a “mandate,” like it or not. Sen. Jason Rapert continues the disinformation campaign, suggesting people’s freedom is violated by forced vaccination. But the vaccination isn’t forced. Workers may choose not to be vaccinated and work elsewhere. Sen. Alan Clark said small businesses are being told by larger businesses they will no longer do business with them if they don’t require vaccinations for their workers. He called this “fascism.” Dismang said this legislation would provide no help to those businesses. Sen. Gary Stubblefield suggested vaccine resistance was a religious matter. Hammer closed emphasizing the need to protect the small minority of resisters and businesses that want relief from federal rules.
DECISION: The Senate approved the bill 22-12, which meant the emergency clause failed needing 24 votes. Hammer moved to expunge the vote on the emergency vote and it again failed with 22 votes in favor. However, a procedural debate ensued about the fact that votes were counted on the motion to expunge by two people who weren’t present but who had been counted in the original vote because they had paired with present members. Hammer tried to erase the expungement vote (even though votes in his favor actually were counted despite the absences) so it could be voted again. But his motion failed by a single vote.
Hammer then asked that the bill be held in the Senate before it was sent back to the House. That motion failed. When the House got the bill, a debate ensued on a request by the House sponsor to send the bill back to the Senate. Ultimately, the House voted 60-22 to do so. The House still has another bill passed by the Senate without an emergency clause that it can approve.
For the record: The bill purports to give workers a way around vaccination requirements by businesses, requiring a testing exception. The bill nominally provides money for testing, should state or federal money be available. And it also suggests workers can claim jobless benefits if they leave a job over the vaccine rules.
The testing requirement will be a headache, so much so that sponsors undoubtedly hope it will deter employers from adopting them.
A huge coming issue are OSHA rules. Vaccine mandates likely will be required for recipients of hospitals, nursing homes and other health facilities and they could lose Medicare and Medicaid money if the state’s new exemption rules are broader than those allowed by federal law.
ON THE LARGER ISSUE: Vaccine mandates work, despite misinformation and disinformation from people like Rep. Mary Bentley. They are producing 90 percent compliance. And a word for those who think you can just claim “religious exemption” as a king’s cross against employer rules.
A snippet from a newsletter, the Journalist’s Resource:
Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law who researches legal issues related to vaccines. Tip #1: Don’t assume employers, colleges or schools that require COVID-19 vaccinations will offer religious exemptions. And if they do, don’t assume exemption requests will be approved.
“Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires U.S. employers, including government agencies, to accommodate employees whose religious beliefs and practices conflict with work requirements — so long as it doesn’t create an ‘undue hardship’ for the employer,” Ordway writes. “That means workplace administrators must let employees request an exemption if vaccines are required for work, but don’t have to grant them.”