Governor Hutchinson Allows Vaccine Mandate, Redistricting Bills to Become Law Without His Signature

Governor Asa Hutchinson won’t sign any of the bills that the members of the 93rd General Assembly sent to him last week, he announced today.

Senate Bill 739 and House Bill 1977 and Senate Bill 743 and House Bill 1982 will become law without his signature.

The vaccine bills “are unnecessary,” Governor Hutchinson said, and the debate hurt efforts to convince hesitant Arkansans to get vaccinated.

The Governor is concerned that the boundaries of new Congressional election maps, especially the division of Pulaski County, will harm minority populations, he said.

Governor Hutchinson’s full statements about his decision follow:

Senate Bill 739/House Bill 1977

“Today, I have on my desk Senate Bill 739 and House Bill 1977, which are similar bills passed by wide margins in the General Assembly.

These bills are unnecessary, and the conversation has been harmful to our goal of encouraging vaccines. For those reasons, I will not sign the bills into law with my signature. I will allow them to become law without signing.

These two bills are designed to push back on President Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal contractors and employers with more than 100 employees.

“I am opposed to the current mandate by the Biden Administration, but the solution is not to place additional mandates on employers at the state government level. The solution is not to put employers in a squeeze play between state and federal law.

“Employers need the freedom to protect their employees and their customers, and government should not interfere with that freedom through mandates.

“While some Arkansans state they need the option to opt-out of the vaccine requirements and need to be provided reasonable accommodations if they choose not to take the vaccine, those protections are already in place.

“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. Medical and religious exemptions are already in place for any vaccine requirements. Therefore, these bills are unnecessary and could interfere with the at-will employment status of the State of Arkansas and could be costly for employees.

“Further, SB739 and HB1977 create distrust and additional hesitancy regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines are safe and have been carefully tested and evaluated.  The FDA has a rigorous approval process, which the vaccines have passed. The vaccines are safe, and Arkansans need to get vaccinated, but not through mandates.

“Finally, one factor in my decision not to veto the legislation is the fact that the General Assembly defeated the emergency clause. The extra 90 days before the bills become law allow critical time to assess the harm and for the Courts to review the bills as well.

Senate Bill 743/House Bill 1982

“The United States Constitution gives the Arkansas General Assembly the sole authority and responsibility to formulate the redistricting plan every ten (10) years for the four (4) congressional districts. If challenged, the judicial branch, as it has done in past years, will determine the constitutionality of the map.

“I am concerned about the impact of the redistricting plan on minority populations.

“While the percentage of the minority composition of the proposed map for three of the four districts does not differ much from the current percentages, the removal of minority areas in Pulaski County into two different districts raises concerns. I have been contacted by many asking me to veto the legislation. I decided not to veto the bills but instead to let them go into law without my signature. This will enable those who wish to challenge this redistricting plan in court to do so.

“In 1990, I was counsel in a case with the NAACP in which we challenged the congressional redistricting plan. While the court, in that case, determined the map did not violate the vote-dilution section of the Voting Rights Act and the plan did not constitute intentional discrimination, I learned from that experience the real concerns of the minority population about their equal opportunity to have an effective voice in elections. Fair and equitable maps are necessary for the integrity of our democratic society.