The state Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Monday approved a bill to prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates across state and local government entities, a step legislators said would mirror an expired law from 2021.
Despite much ado and confusion at the Capitol this morning about other elements of Gov. Sarah Sanders’ special session this week, senators settled into the committee meeting after lunch for a quick discussion on the bill. Sen. Joshua Bryant (R-Rogers) is the primary sponsor of the bill, with more than a dozen senators and 52 representatives listed as co-sponsors.
“Gov. Sanders was very clear that we do not want [vaccine mandates] across our state,” Bryant told the committee. “She’s been very proactive to allow choice when it comes to vaccine mandates.”
Like the 2021 law, Senate Bill 3 would prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates at state entities. Bryant’s bill takes it a step further to detail vaccine mandates for any “subvariants” of the virus. It also would require the Arkansas Department of Health to “maintain information and data on any potential risks and harms” associated with the vaccine and to “make the information and data publicly available.”
The vaccine mandates would extend from state employees to the county and city level and down to schools, Bryant said. Exceptions are possible, but Bryant said they would be strict and at the discretion of the Arkansas Legislative Council.
One individual, a woman who said she managed a child care business during the pandemic, spoke in favor of the bill. She said her four employees, and the parents of the children who were cared for individually, made choices about vaccination. She supported their right to choose, she said.
Discussion among legislators in committee was minimal Monday, though one opposing vote could be heard.
The legislation is right on track with Sanders’ narrative against the COVID-19 pandemic and safety measures. When she announced the special session on Friday, the COVID-19-related items were described as ways to “protect our freedom.”
SB 3 is expected to be voted on in the full Senate on Tuesday.