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Gov. Hutchinson voices concern about state's COVID and redistricting bills

Gov. Hutchinson said he won't sign a pair of bills that would allow employees to opt-out of taking the COVID-19 vaccine if they are tested weekly or have antibodies.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. —

During a press conference Wednesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson said he will not sign two bills that would give employees different options if their employer mandates the COVID-19 vaccine.

The bills require a process that allows employees to opt-out of vaccine requirements so long as they are tested weekly for the virus or can prove they have COVID-19 antibodies present.

Hutchinson said that while the bills were "unnecessary" and that he wasn't going to sign the bills into law he wouldn't veto the measures, allowing them to become Arkansas law.

He said the debates surrounding the bills were "harmful" against Arkansas's effort to get vaccinated people against the virus.

"These two bills are designed to push back on President Biden's vaccine mandate for federal contractors and employers with more than 100 employees," he said. "Let me emphasize that I disagree with the federal mandate on vaccinations...but the solution is not to place additional mandates on employers at the state government level."

He said the solution to getting more people vaccinated is to not place the employers between the state government and the federal government. "Employers need the freedom to protect their employees, and their customers, and the government should not interfere with that freedom through mandates."

The governor also announced that the state saw 694 new COVID cases, 19 more deaths, and 531 people currently hospitalized. A total of 8,166 people have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

Additionally, two more bills from the special session moved to the governor's desk. One bill from the house and one bill from the senate that focused on redistricting.

Redistricting happens once every 10 years. It's a process intended to balance populations for voter representation along with setting a new legislative map for the state.

But Hutchinson said he's uncomfortable with the proposed map and that he's worried it will negatively impact minority populations.

"While the percentage of minority populations for three of the four congressional districts do not differ that much from the current percentages, the removal of minority areas in Pulaski County into two different congressional districts does raise concerns," he said.

Although he does not plan to veto the redistricting bills, Hutchinson shared that by not signing them, it still allows those who wish to challenge the legislation to do so in court.