The House after extended wrangling defeated SB 731 to prevent employers from asking workers about COVID vaccinations.
The vote was 41-46, with one person voting present, needing 51 for passage. I’ll post the roll call when it’s available.
The House then approved a motion to recess, with the provision that it could reconvene to take up corrections or consider vetoes, but otherwise expecting to automatically adjourn Oct. 15. The Senate met at 1:30 p.m. on a similar motion and did so routinely.
The governor has said he’d announce veto decisions next week I’d predict none, though the sponsor said he thought one possible on this bill
The debate was dominated by concerns of negative impacts on businesses, concerns that were expressed at length but rejected in narrow committee approval Thursday by one of the legislature’s most conservative committees.
Rep. Joshua Bryant, speaking for the bill, said it would be a tool to pressure the federal government to relent when expected lawsuits challenge various vaccination rules.
He said he’d worked hard on a bill approved earlier to provide a testing alternative to vaccinations. But it was stripped of an emergency clause, giving rise to this legislation, which also lacks an emergency clause. It also can’t take effect for 90 days.
Bryant didn’t address conflicts between his earlier bill and this one, but said it would be a relief to those challenging the “corporate oligarchy” that he said had joined with government to force use of what he termed an unproven and potentially dangerous vaccination.
“This will say Arkansans have said no,” Bryant said.
Rep. David Ray (R-Maumelle) gave an extensive argument against the legislation. He noted that it “directly conflicts” with Bryant’s bill on a testing exemption. Employers are prevented from talking about vaccines.
It will be a “bonanza for trial lawyers.” It will create a hurdle for employers who must comply with CDC guidelines. It has no exemption for medical providers. He said he wanted to be able to know if the staff of a nursing home or a home health aide caring for a family member was vaccinated. “This bill would make that illegal in our own homes.”
He said he feared the bill would encourage employers to rush to require vaccinations before the law takes effect. He said it created a new “protected class,” something the legislature has resisted in the case of hate crimes and in support of a bakery that wouldn’t make a cake for gay people.
He said it would lead to job losses and noted that federal contractors already are required to have vaccinated workforces and could face giving up that work to comply with state law. He emphasized that nobody was “strapped to a gurney” and forced to take a shot.
Speaker Matthew Shepherd took the rare step of leaving the chair to speak on a bill. He spoke forcefully and emotionally against it. He said it was a government overreach. He said it created liability for example for someone looking to hire a housekeeper for an aged relative, as his family had recently done. He said it “guts” the previously passed bill with a testing exemption.
“There are so many things that are wrong with this bill I could go on and on and on. … We need to vote this down and go home.”
Shepherd said he was prepared for criticism and misrepresentation on social media. But, “In the words of Bobby Petrino, I just didn’t come here to paint.”
Rep. Michelle Gray, who works in health care, raised again the potential damage to health institutions because they are already required to report on vaccination status. They face loss of Medicare and Medicaid funding if they don’t comply with this requirement. And if they do follow federal law, they open themselves up to mass lawsuits by employees who refuse to talk about vaccinations. It could mean millions in damages. “This bill goes too far.”