JONESBORO — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday a new law that will allow employees to opt-out of COVID-19 vaccine requirements interferes with private business and sows distrust.
In Arkansas, a bill becomes law after it sits on the governor’s desk for five days without any action.
“In essence, the debate and the bills themselves create distrust and additional hesitancy regarding the COVID-19 vaccines,” Hutchinson said during his weekly news conference, adding that the vaccines have been carefully tested and evaluated under a rigorous process under the Food and Drug Administration.
Hutchinson told reporters he allowed the measure to become law without his signature despite the concerns he expressed. The new law, however, won’t take effect until early next year. The legislation passed by wide margins, and a simple majority vote is all that is necessary to override a governor’s veto.
“These two bills (House Bill 1977 and Senate Bill 739) are designed to push back on President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and employers with more than 100 employees,” Hutchinson said, adding that he also disagrees with Biden’s anticipated mandate. “But the solution is not to place additional mandates on employers on the state government level. The solution is not to place employers in a squeeze play between the federal government and the state government.”
The measure requires employers to allow workers to opt out of COVID-19 vaccine requirements if they’re tested weekly or can prove they have antibodies for the virus. Health officials have said antibody tests should not be used to assess immunity against the coronavirus and that people who have recovered from COVID-19 should still get vaccinated.
Hutchinson said people can already opt out of the vaccine for religious or medical reasons.
“Those protections are already in place under current law,” Hutchinson said. “In fact, based upon the president’s announcement, it is anticipated that the federal mandate will allow for weekly testing for those individuals who do not wish to take the vaccine.”
The Arkansas Department of Health reported 694 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, down from 882 from Oct. 6. However, in Northeast Arkansas, Craighead, Greene and Jackson counties had slight increases from the previous Wednesday.
Active cass declined by 104 statewide to 6,702.
The state reported 19 deaths, including two in Clay and one in Greene County. Since the pandemic reached Arkansas in March 2020, the state believes at least 8,166 residents have died from complications from the disease.
Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county on Wednesday:
Craighead – 39 new cases; 357 active cases, increase of 4 from Tuesday.
Greene – 31 new cases; 213 active, increase of 9.
Lawrence – 5 new cases; 65 active, increase of 2.
Poinsett – 2 new cases; 94 active, decrease of 7.
Mississippi – 26 new cases; 206 active, increase of 7.
Jackson – 13 new cases; 79 active, increase of 7.
Randolph – 3 new cases; 85 active, decrease of 16.
Cross – 9 new cases; 49 active, decrease of 1.
Clay – 3 new cases; 63 active, decrease of 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.