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Legislators Begin Special Session on Mask Mandates

2 min read

Legislators meeting in a special session Wednesday morning filed two bills dealing with Act 1002, which prohibits state and local governments from imposing mask mandates.

One, HB1003, filed by Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, would allow public schools and charter schools with children under age 11 to implement mask mandates if local COVID-19 infections reach a certain level and their school boards approve the mandate.

Another, SB2, filed by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, would allow local school districts to impose mask requirements during a pandemic emergency. But parents would also be allowed to transfer their children to another public school district or charter school; private school; home school; or a virtual school.

One of the proposals, HB 1003, is scheduled to be discussed in the House Public Health Committee meeting at 1 p.m.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson called legislators into a special session yesterday, aiming to give public school boards the power to decide whether to require masks.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that he wants to give local schools “flexibility to protect those school children who are 11 and younger and not eligible” for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hutchinson has faced growing calls to revisit the ban as the state’s cases and hospitalizations surge. But the mask law has stiff GOP opposition in the Legislature and getting the two-thirds support in the House and Senate to change the law before school starts statewide faces an uphill battle. 

The Republican leader of the state Senate told reporters yesterday that the proposal doesn’t even have a simple majority in his chamber.

“As of right now, I don’t see us getting it this week,” Senate President Jimmy Hickey told reporters on Tuesday. Republican House Speaker Matthew Shepherd said he also didn’t believe there were enough votes in his chamber at this point to pass any changes to the mask mandate ban.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Jack Ladyman said he’s hearing overwhelmingly from constituents in his district opposed to rolling back the law.

“I believe it’s going to have tough sledding wherever it goes,” Ladyman, a Republican, told The Associated Press.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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