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Lawmakers should talk about emergency and mask law

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State lawmakers return to the State Capitol this morning to review Governor Asa Hutchinson’s recovery from a statewide public health emergency due to covid-19 and expect meet in a special session starting Wednesday to consider a bill allowing public school officials to decide whether to require masks in schools.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

But Hutchinson has yet to call for the special session.

Pro tempore Senate Speaker Jimmy Hickey R-Texarkana said on Monday that one of two bills circulating among state lawmakers would allow school boards to decide whether to require masks in public schools with children under 12, who are not eligible for vaccination.

The other bill in circulation would respond to a decision by a Pulaski County circuit judge on Thursday who ordered the state to try to resume participation in a federal unemployment assistance program that Hutchinson had sought to end, Hickey said.

Circuit Judge Herbert T. Wright’s temporary injunction against Hutchinson’s order affects some 69,000 unemployed Arkansans who were receiving weekly federal supplements of $ 300 to their regular state unemployment benefits.

Hutchinson announced in May that he would end Arkansas ‘participation in the federal program after June 26, saying the federal supplements were interfering with employers’ ability to find enough workers.

Wright wrote in its decision: “The Court has serious doubts that the Governor and the Director of Manpower Services were acting within the scope of their duties, as these decisions would normally be subject to review. legislation of the General Assembly. “

SPECIAL SESSION

When asked why Hutchinson had yet to make the call to the special session, her spokesperson, Shealyn Sowers, said Monday evening she had made no comment.

He was asked on Friday when the governor would launch the appeal and provide details of his bill. “More information will be released on Monday,†Sowers said that day in a written statement.

Hickey said he expects the governor to call the Legislative Assembly into special session starting at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

House officials are still preparing for a special session starting Wednesday, House spokeswoman Cecillea Pond-Mayo said.

But Hickey said the public school mask mandates bill was “not even close” to having the 18 votes required for the approval of the 35 Senate members.

But he said, “You never say never.”

The proposed legislation would amend Law 1002, sponsored by Senator Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, which prohibits state and local governments, including public schools, from requiring that individuals wear masks. The law came into effect on July 28.

The bill’s emergency clause would require a two-thirds vote in the 35-member Senate and 100-member House to take effect immediately after the bill is signed by the governor. Otherwise, the bill would come into force 90 days after it is signed by the governor. If the bill passes by the Legislature and is signed by the governor this week, it would come into force in early November.

The latest wave of covid-19 is now and school starts in mid-August.

Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee chair Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, said she still hopes the proposed legislation will empower the legislature.

“I serve with a lot of great people and they represent their area and a lot of them feel like they need to listen to the people in their area and, if people call and ask to vote against part of that, then that’s what they’re going to do, “she said.

“I have a wonderful region and I think I have a lot of support there,†said Bledsoe.

On March 30, Hutchinson announced he was lifting the state’s mask mandate.

On April 22, the Senate voted 19-9 to send Garner’s bill that became Law 1002 to the governor, after the House voted 69-20 to approve Garner’s bill on April 20.

Rogers attorney Tom Mars announced Monday that he has filed a complaint with Pulaski County Circuit Court to prevent the application of Law 1002 and seek a ruling that the law is unconstitutional. The costume was not available online Monday night. The Little Rock School District has also threatened to sue for Bill 1002.

Citing the increase in hospitalizations linked to covid-19, Hutchinson on Thursday restored the public health emergency that he had allowed to expire at the end of May.

The State House and Senate are each scheduled to meet in Committee of the Whole at 10 a.m. today to consider the declaration of emergency as provided for in Bill 403, signed by Hutchinson in March.

If a concurrent resolution to end the public health emergency is introduced, lawmakers will consider the resolution. But no resolution had been presented late Monday afternoon, according to House and Senate officials. If a concurrent resolution to end the public health emergency is not introduced, Hickey has said he will declare that the statewide public health emergency will continue.

If a resolution ending the emergency is passed, Hutchinson could veto it and the legislature could consider overriding the veto.

The emergency will expire 60 days from Thursday, unless the emergency is lifted earlier or its renewal is approved by the Legislative Council.

TESTIMONIAL ABOUT THE VIRUS

During Monday afternoon’s meeting of the Senate and House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees, State Representative Mary Bentley R-Perryville said she had heard that masking children increased their carbon dioxide levels and children weren’t sure how to wear them properly. , causing them to pick up dirt, urine and feces.

But state epidemiologist Dr Jennifer Dillaha told lawmakers CO2 molecules are much smaller than the covid virus and could easily pop out of the mask.

She said the virus is carried in droplets, which are much larger than the virus itself, and that’s how the mask catches them.

“The cloth mask should have a totally closed system to increase carbon monoxide levels,†Dillaha said. “Claims that it might do this make no medical sense to me.”

Senator Kim Hammer, R-Benton, asked Dillaha why the conversation wasn’t about vaccines more than masks, because he said most of the evidence pointed to the decline in coronavirus cases earlier this year being attributed to the vaccine.

Dillaha said both measures are necessary if the state is to see a drop in cases.

“Without vaccines and masks, we will not be able to suppress this virus to avoid overwhelming our hospital system,” she said.

Dillaha said the vaccines were 98% effective at first, but now medical officials are seeing a decrease of about 10% with breakthrough cases noted across the country due to the delta variant.

After being asked about the effectiveness of sheet masks, she said that all types of masks can be effective. She said the layers on fabric masks can achieve medical grade protection and that anything other than N95 masks protects more against the spread of particles by the wearer than inhaling particles.

“When [masks] are implemented, they decrease the transmission of covid-19, â€she said.

Dillaha said the original variant of covid-19 infected, on average, about two to three unvaccinated people.

She said a study from the UK indicates that the delta variant infects around eight people on average.

Dillaha said the best way to prevent transmission of the virus is a combination of things.

“The vaccines will reduce the risk of infections and transmission,” she said. “Masking practices, social distancing, and good hygiene as well. Other things that can be done are increase ventilation in an area and if they are sick stay home and do not infect them. other people.”

PROTEST MASK

At the State Capitol on Monday morning, several dozen people attended a rally to oppose a bill that would allow school boards to decide whether to require masks in public schools.

Bronson Martin de Conway, representing US group Freedom Cruisers, urged lawmakers to “stand firm and not change” Law 1002.

Parents – not local school boards – should decide whether their children wear masks in public schools, Martin said.

Subsequently, Arkansas School Boards Association executive director Tony Prothro said the association did not have a position on the bill that would allow school boards to decide whether or not to require masks in public schools.

Like other Arkansans, school board members have different opinions on the requirement for masks in public schools, he said. He said their opinions depend in part on whether they live in urban or rural parts of the state.

If the legislature changes Bill 1002 to allow school boards to decide whether or not to require masks in public schools, school board members across the state want a data system, possibly from the health department. of Arkansas or Arkansas Children’s Hospital, to show the number of covid -19 cases in each district and at each school in addition to advice on a school closure threshold, Prothro said.

School board members across the state want to get students back to school because of the learning loss resulting from distance learning last school year, he said.

Arkansas Department of Health spokesperson Meg Mirivel said on Monday: “We are in internal talks about the possibility of restarting the educational report we produced on Mondays and Thursdays last school year. . ” This report shows cases among staff, faculty and students, she said.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement has started updating its report which shows community cases within school district boundaries, she said.

Mirivel said whether or not to close a school is a discussion between the Arkansas Department of Health, the Arkansas Department of Education and the district.

The Ministry of Health “does not set a precise threshold because every situation is different,” she said. “For example, if a school has cases primarily among teachers and staff, it may impact their ability to keep the school open, even if the number of cases is not high.”


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