Arkansas House approves bill to reinstate ban of covid-19 vaccine mandates

Howard Beaty Jr., R-Crossett, speaks during a meeting of the Arkansas House on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Tommy Metthe)

The Arkansas House on Wednesday handily approved a bill intended to reinstate a ban on covid-19 vaccine mandates for public entities.

House Bill 1002, sponsored by Rep. Howard Beaty, R-Crossett, passed 83-14 and moves to the Senate for further action.

Shortly after the House vote, the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor approved an identical Senate bill in a voice vote with some audible dissent. Senate Bill 3, by Sen. Joshua Bryant, R-Rogers, moves to the full House for further consideration.

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When presenting his bill to the House, Beaty said the legalization is needed to "send a message to the employees of this state that we will not mandate a coronavirus vaccination for them."

House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough spoke against the bill, saying lawmakers "should not be in the business of determining health care decisions for individual Arkansans."

Under the proposed bills, state and local government officials would be barred from mandating or requiring an individual to receive a vaccine or immunization for covid-19. Officials also would be prohibited from requiring a person to receive a vaccine as a condition of education, employment, entry or services from the state or a state agency or entity, or for obtaining a licensure, certificate or permit from a state agency or entity.

The bills would create a similar mandate ban to one included in Act 977 of 2021, which expired in August.The proposed legislation goes further than the 2021 act by covering vaccines for any subvariants of the virus in addition to covid-19 vaccines.

Unlike Act 977, bills do not include an expiration date. Beaty has noted the legislation allows state and local entities to seek exemptions to the mandate ban while the 2021 act only allowed "a state-owned or state-controlled medical facility" to request an exemption from the Arkansas Legislative Council.

Another provision in SB 3 and HB 1002 would require the Arkansas Department of Health to maintain information and data on "any potential risks and harms associated with the administration of the vaccine or immunization" for covid-19 or subvariants of the virus and make the information and data publicly available.