LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Discussions continue in Little Rock as state lawmakers meet again to talk about COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Three bills passed out of the Arkansas Senate Monday, Oct. 4, but only one of those is still standing today.
Senate Bill 739 passed a House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. This bill allows employees to be exempt from getting the vaccine as long as they submit a weekly COVID-19 test or prove they have antibodies for the virus.
A similar bill made its way to the House floor Tuesday, Oct. 5. House Bill 1977 includes funding weekly COVID-19 testing so that cost isn't passed on to the employee or the employer. Republican Representative Joshua Bryant of Rogers authors the bill.
"If an employer is going to pave the road to vaccines, what we are asking for is two additional lanes for employees to go back and forth. In addition to that, we worry about funding. So, what this bill does is direct the DFNA to establish rules to use ARPA funds to potentially pay for that funding," he said.
Democratic Representative Tippi McCullough of Little Rock says it seems counterproductive to work so hard to bring our case numbers down and then oppose options to get us out of this pandemic.
"Some say businesses and government are trying to control people, I say they are trying to protect, it's what public health policy is for. People have choices of where they work, and I have found that out personally in my life," she said.
Republican Representative of Fort Smith, Cindy Crawford, says mandates and lockdowns are a tool of tyranny.
"We are in a pandemic, and we've been for our country for the past 18 months, but we don't lay down, and we don't give our freedoms away," she said.
"In my mind, it is fulfilling the goal of both sides by providing accommodations that provide physical protection for workers and the protection of individual rights," Ark. Rep. Delia Haak (R-Centerton) said.
"We've heard arguments in this chamber and others linking this to aligning with racial discrimination, the Holocaust. You all, this is about public health. This is about protecting lives, that's it," Ark. Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) said.
Talks will continue tomorrow, where SB739 will be heard by the full House and HB1977 will be heard in the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, over 52% of Arkansans eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are immunized against the virus.