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Arkansas House committee rejects two amendments to mask mandate ban

Gov. Asa Hutchinson voiced his disappointed after a House committee rejected two proposals which would've amended the Arkansas's mask mandate ban.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Governor Asa Hutchinson said he was "disappointed" Thursday after a House committee rejected two proposals that would allow school districts to set mask mandate rules.

Hutchinson, who has asked the legislature to amend the state's mask mandate ban, said it is "conservative, reasonable and compassionate" to allow school districts to "protect those students who are under 12" who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

"The cases and quarantines at the Marion School District during the last week illustrate the urgency of action," Hutchinson said. "If we are going to have a successful school year then the local school districts need to have flexibility to protect those that are at risk."

Related: Arkansas school district announces over 800 students quarantined due to COVID cases

The House Public Health Committee rejected both HB1003 and HB1004, which were both bills designed to amend the mask mandate ban.

HB1003 originally would have allowed schools to mandate mask wearing for 60 days if the district had an infection rate of at least 50 new cases per 10,000 people. The bill was amended to move the mandate down to 21 days and giving districts more options, but still failed to get the votes.

HB1004 would have allowed schools the ability to require mask wearing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It also allowed schools to require masks in places where children under 12 may be present which included school buildings, buses, and other educational settings.

"I think our job as representatives is to represent the people of the state of Arkansas and I believe that I am representing a portion of people who believe that the masks will help," Julie Mayberry, a House Representative and sponsor of the bill, said.

Related: Arkansas lawmakers searching for answers to amend law banning mask mandates

Mayberry said school districts having the option to enact a mask mandate for 21 days is compassionate. She wants Arkansans to care about each other just as much as they care about themselves.

"There's also beliefs that it takes away freedoms and I understand that we want to give as much ability for people to have as many freedoms as possible, but every law up here limits our freedoms in some way and if that's our stand then we might need to take a look at other laws," Mayberry said.

Related: Arkansas sued by 2 school districts over mask mandate ban

The Little Rock School District and Marion School District have filed a lawsuit against Arkansas regarding the mask mandate ban. The lawsuit argues the new law violates the Arkansas Constitution.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott put in place a mask mandate that would apply to properties owned by the city despite the statewide ban.

The ruling has had an affect on all Arkansans: including both students and parents.

Jennifer Waymack Standerfer is a Bentonville mother whose 6-year old-son is going into the first grade this year.

She told law makers that her son had his temperature checked at a childcare facility, where it came back at 99 degrees. She believed that it could come from other factors such as an ear infection or high levels of energetic play. 

She stated that she understood the protocol of not allowing her son inside due to the safety of other children, but it meant she that was unable to attend work.

She emphasized to lawmakers that parents needing to work would be affected if their children were exposed and no longer allowed into classroom due to the need to quarantine.  

"I just need you to allow my local school board to look at the numbers and weigh their options in order to keep my son in school with a mask," Standerfer said.

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