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Arkansas Republicans pass anti-vaccine mandate bills

The Arkansas Senate focused on COVID bills, including one that allows someone to get unemployment benefits if they were fire for refusing the COVID vaccine.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It's the fourth day of talks over congressional redistricting and COVID-19 specific bills are once again center stage.

"We've basically gone off the track into an entirely different session," Senator Jim Hendren (I-Gravette) said.

After multiple days of sending COVID bills back and forth from committee to the Senate, legislators passed three bills today.

Senate Bill 730 and 739 focus on unemployment benefits if they're fired specifically because they refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Senate Bill 732 focuses on "coercion" and prohibits anyone from being coerced into taking the vaccine.

But again, this raises the question of where the map specific bills are. This session is designed specifically for that, so where are those bills at? 

It's a question that Sen. Hendren had as well and brought it up to the Senate.

"The rest of the thing, we had COVID bills all throughout the session, so the legislature, again, I think has gone outside of the intent of the constitution which says we meet every two years for 60 days or 75 days if it's a 2/3 vote," he said. "We're up to over 110 days now."

Some other legislators agree with that sentiment, even going so far as to say these COVID bills are a waste of time. 

But Senator Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) said there is no issue with what's currently taking place at the Arkansas Capitol.

"That reminds me of when I was on the quorum court in Garland County and we would meet on a Monday night and justices were in a hurry to get home to watch Monday Night Football," Sen. Clark said. "So they didn't want to hear the public come to speak, and if we didn't want to do the job, we shouldn't have run to start with."

Senator Hendren said regardless of what you think, these bills hurt businesses more than they help them.

"I don't know that I would say it's a complete waste of time, I fear that's its even worse, it's time that's going to make things worse," Sen. Hendren said. "It's going to put businesses in some real quandaries when we pass state law that conflicts with federal law."

On the flip side, Sen. Clark said he's not tired of doing this – he wants more of it.

"Why does the legislature run scared?" he said. "The Executive branch doesn't run scared, the Judiciary branch doesn't run scared, lets just do our job and let it settle itself in the courts."

As far as congressional maps, the Senate State Agencies committee, which handles that, met Monday afternoon very briefly. Before adjourning, there were talks of a map being worked on by both a Senator and a Representative that would be brought up in committee on Tuesday.