ARKANSAS LOCAL MASK RULES CREATE HAVOC
LEGISLATURE TO THE RESCUE… MAYBE…
By: C. Stafford, Reopen Arkansas
It was only a week or so ago that the Governor assured Arkansans that there would be no local/municipal mask rules when the state mandate expired – a stance he had periodically taken since his initial mask mandate nearly a year ago. Then, on the eve of the state mandate expiration, and in typical fashion, he changed course via a press conference in which he tacitly encouraged local municipalities to adopt their own local mask ordinances. In the short time since, this has created a mishmash of municipal public statements about implementing local mask rules and ordinances, pitting city against city, county against county, parent against school board, and neighbor against neighbor – none of it good for Arkansans overall.
Eighteen states have now ended or will soon end mask mandates. Not surprising to most, but somehow surprising to the left and some politicians, no super-spreader, deadly return of Covid-19 has occurred in those states. Masks have and remain more of a political tool than a health prophylactic – one need only look to the medical hero of the left, Dr. Faux-chi, and his flip-flopping statements on masks.
That brings us back to Arkansas and masks. With the governor reneging on his pledge not to support varying mask rules at municipal levels, the varying rules currently popping up are pitting Arkansans against each other. What will follow is mass havoc and uncertainty when simply crossing city or county lines – who can know what the rules are here or there? Outcries rapidly began echoing through city halls, quorum courts, and school districts state-wide. A solution was needed.
Enter Senator Trent Garner and Senate Bill 590, purported to end government mask mandates state-wide. Senator Garner appears to have astutely grasped the political handwriting on the Governor’s wall and recognized the need for quick legislative action. SB590 passed the Arkansas Senate overwhelmingly the day the Governor’s mask mandate expired, with a 27-7 vote that met the requirements necessary for it to take immediate effect upon full passage, but there’s a problem. The plain language of SB590 isn’t so plain. Much discussion has ensued about whether SB590 would actually bar local municipalities from enacting their own mask mandates–many arguing it would, many arguing it wouldn’t. Surely the intent of SB590 was to bar municipal bans, as with the expiration of the Governor’s state-level ban, there’s no need for the bill otherwise. Was the Senate aware of the confusing language when they passed it? We don’t know. It’s hard to write good legislation and even harder to write good legislation quickly. Unintended consequences occur.
Regardless, SB590 has now moved to the Arkansas House of Representatives for approval. The House can amend the bill to fix the obviously flawed and confusing language, or they can pass it as is and likely create an onslaught of court battles against municipalities that adopt local mask ordnances. That’s good for no one.
Either way, SB590 must first clear the House Public Health Committee, either in its present, confusing form, or in an amended clarified version, in order to see a full House vote on the bill. Unfortunately, the House Public Health Committee has had a record of center-left at best, and a history this session of killing, in committee, bills representing individual liberty or limited government.
Arkansans deserve both a better, clearer, bill addressing statewide mask mandates, and a better performance from the House Public Health Committee. SB590 should be amended in the House to clearly bar municipal mask mandates and should be approved by the committee for a full House vote. Clarification and approval of SB590 will lay to rest the bickering “mask-wars” within the state and prevent the state from simply swapping state mask fines for a hodge-podge of varying municipal ones.
The time to end the conflict over masks in Arkansas is now. Arkansans may continue to wear a mask as they individually chose, but what we don’t need is confusing legislation and mixed, varying, municipal level rules, ordinances, fines, and the bickering and ill-will between our fellow Arkansans that will accompany them.
Please contact your legislator and the PHC members immediately. The following are the Public Health Committee members who will soon decide if the bill is passed through committee in its current or amended form, and if your elected representatives, via a full House vote, have a voice in the decision to continue or end mask mandates in Arkansas:
Jack Ladyman , Deborah Ferguson , Fred Allen , Mary Bentley , Justin Boyd , Joe Cloud , Bruce Coleman , Marsh Davis , Jim Dotson , Jon S. Eubanks , Justin Gonzales , Michelle Gray , Stephen Magie , Josh Miller , John Payton , Clint Penzo , Mark Perry , Aaron Pilkington , Jeff Wardlaw , Carlton Wing