Arkansas House Approves Employee Withdrawal From COVID Vaccine
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas House on Tuesday proposed legislation that would require employers to let workers choose not to take the COVID-19 vaccine, despite warnings that it would conflict with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate and would threaten millions of dollars in federal funding for healthcare facilities around the state.
The proposal was approved by the House and sent to the Senate by 68 votes to 23. It was among several measures targeting the President’s vaccine ordinance that were introduced in the Republican majority legislature during a session that was supposed to focus on redistributing Congress.
“The intention of this bill is to protect employees from this overbreadth,” Republican Representative Josh Bryant, who sponsored the measure, said on House floors.
An identical Senate-backed bill was approved by a House panel on Tuesday, sending it to a final vote.
The House bill would allow employees to opt out of a vaccine requirement if they are tested weekly for COVID-19 or can prove they have antibodies to the virus. Health officials, however, said antibody tests should not be used to assess immunity to the virus and that people who have recovered from COVID-19 should still be vaccinated.
“It just seems counterproductive to me that we are working so hard in Arkansas to reduce our number of infections and deaths and then oppose options to get us out of this pandemic,” said Democratic Representative Tippi McCullough, Chief. majority in the House.
One proponent of the withdrawal measure compared the federal vaccine mandate to the forced medical experimentation of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, a comparison that quickly drew condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League.
“The last time this was done on such a large scale was for the Jewish people when they were guinea pigs,” Republican Representative Cindy Crawford said. The ADL tweeted that Crawford “should be ashamed of his rhetoric which undermines science and denigrates the suffering of millions of people murdered during the Holocaust.”
Several of Arkansas’ largest employers, including Tyson Foods of Springdale and Walmart of Bentonville, have adopted vaccine requirements for some or all of their employees. Several state hospitals also require vaccinations for employees.
Another bill passed by the Senate a day earlier would have banned employers from requiring employees or contractors to be vaccinated. But the measure failed before the House public health committee.
The House also confirmed on Tuesday President Matthew Shepherd’s decision to disqualify another Senate-backed bill that would require the state to pay unemployment insurance to those made redundant so as not to get vaccinated.
Shepherd ruled the Senate proposal was not eligible for consideration in the extended session of the Legislature because it did not address federal funding for COVID-19 aid, one of the few issues non-limiting that the Legislative Assembly is authorized to address. Other anti-warrant measures have included relief funding to circumvent this restriction.
State officials said limits on immunization mandates could threaten Medicare and Medicaid funding for state health facilities. Business leaders said such measures, if adopted, could also cause companies to decide whether to comply with federal or state law.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who criticized Biden’s order, opposed the pullout measures and said they would result in more mandates for small business.
“Employers have the freedom to protect the health of their workplace, and the government should not interfere with the employee / employer relationship,” Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. “We shouldn’t be fighting the federal government’s excess with a solution that causes more problems than it solves.”
The proposal faces uncertainty in the Senate, where an identical bill passed on Monday but without the two-thirds vote needed for it to take effect immediately. Without this threshold, the bill, if passed, would not take effect until 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature.