Michael Wickline reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning that 23 Republican senators want a special session to provide businesses with protection from lawsuits arising from coronavirus issues.

Of course, they do.

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If possible they’d like protection from lawsuits against business period.

The model is Utah. But there’s a movement afoot nationally as well.

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Has anybody sued in Arkansas yet? Not that I’m aware of.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Randy Zook have already proclaimed that workers are out of luck if they think they can sue for getting sick on the job from coronavirus. Your only recourse as an employee for on-the-job ills is workers’ compensation. Both Hutchinson and Zook know it would be a losing battle trying to prove a case of coronavirus was caused at work. So workers are already screwed. And fear of going to a workplace full of sick people is no excuse not to go to work, the governor has proclaimed. Work or lose your unemployment compensation.

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This proposed legislation would extend a bar to lawsuits to customers, too.

An opponent of the legislation in Utah gets it right about this kind of law. Said House Minority Leader Brian King:

It sends precisely the wrong message to businesses and to landlords and to people out there who should be concerned that they do everything they can that’s reasonable to protect their customers and protect their employees.

Utah’s law does say a business is not protected if there’s “willful misconduct; reckless infliction of harm; or intentional infliction of harm.” This is an extraordinarily high bar, in case you’re wondering.

The legislature with this action, in the name of an emergency, also would once again run roughshod over the Arkansas Constitution. It says in relevant part:

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Every person is entitled to a certain remedy in the laws for all injuries or wrongs he may receive in his person, property or character; he ought to obtain justice freely, and without purchase; completely, and without denial; promptly and without delay; conformably to the laws.

But, declare 23 senators so far, not in the case of a business that gets sloppy with health standards and fails to take reasonable steps to ensure its workers and customers and supplies don’t cause harm to others.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has looked askance at such constitutional invasions in the name of limiting business damages before. But times are changing. If a case should reach that court by the time the Republican Party chair’s wife takes the seat currently held by a justice who’s been a defender of constitutional rights, we might learn how much the balance of power has changed.

It tells you a lot about the sympathies of the Arkansas Senate that this is the first item it deems worth of emergency action sufficient to require another legislative session.

Not unscrupulous landlords in the worst state for tenant rights in the country. The governor’s bland assurances about the goodwill of landlords are blown to smithereens by this article. 

Not protecting the safety of voters (as many Republican states have done) by making mail absentee voting easier. If fewer old people and minorities vote, fearing infection, it’s a wonderful thing to the GOP.

Not doing something about our pitiful unemployment compensation program. A 16-week limit in a time when long-term unemployment through no fault of the worker is epidemic?

Not adjusting ballot law to ease limits on petitioning that are anti-democratic in the best of circumstances and nearly prohibitive in the times of a pandemic.

Not moving ahead with telemedicine, to put health care in readier reach, particularly for rural people.

Not doing something about our inadequate cybersecurity laws, even more important now in a time of working from home. See this excellent article by Ashley Hudson.

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I could go on. But business, not the people, come first at the Arkansas legislature.

Regnat Chamber of Commerce.