State Watch

Arkansas governor to ask state legislature to allow masks in schools

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) is asking his state legislature to allow public schools to make their own decisions regarding a mask mandate for students.

“This is not a debate about mask mandates for those that can make their own decisions and have the means to get vaccinated,” Hutchinson said a news conference Thursday, The Associated Press reported.

“This is a discussion about the school environment where schools can make decisions about the public health for their school environment and the children they have responsibility to protect,” he added.

Hutchinson will call state lawmakers back into session in an attempt to allow schools to make their own mask rules, but will keep the ban on local governments from implementing such orders.

However, state lawmakers told the governor lifting the ban would be difficult.

“My issue is it’s real close that we would even have the majority right now,” Senate President Jimmy Hickey (R) said.

Hickey opposed the ban the state put on local governments from implementing mask mandates and said he would support schools making their own choices, according to the AP.

Both chambers would need two-thirds support to lift the ban before school starts, as it would take 90 days for the ban to be lifted if only a simple majority voted for it.

“It’s about local control,” Republican Rep. Joe Jett said, who originally voted to ban local governments from implementing mask mandates but has changed his mind. “One situation doesn’t fit everything across the state.”

Hutchinson has been urging Arkansas residents to get vaccinated for weeks as cases have dramatically risen in a state that has only 36 percent of its population fully vaccinated.

“Why is our vaccination rate lower? We’re a very rural state. We have a lot of resistance. It’s a conservative state. Sometimes conservatives are hesitant about the government, and we’ve just got to counteract that by getting better information to them, building confidence,” Hutchinson said about the low vaccination rate last week.

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