Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday afternoon that he planned to call a special session of the state legislature to amend Act 1002, a ban on mask mandates for government entities, including schools.
"The issue that I'm very concerned about, which is the children in our school systems that are 12 and under that are not eligible to be vaccinated. Everyone else, it's a decision that can be made with their parents or individually that the answer to the public health concerns is simply to get vaccinated," Hutchinson said.
He said he'd already spoken with Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and Senate president pro tempore Jimmy Hickey, R- Texarkana, and he would likely call the session next week.
"They have expressed to me that it's going to be a heavy lift to get passage of this in the legislature, but I have confidence that as the legislature looks at this, they will understand that one, it's a conservative principle to utilize local decision-making, and not everything fits statewide; and secondly, that this is necessary for providing local school boards the ability to protect those most vulnerable young people."
He noted that 24 children with COVID-19 are currently in the Arkansas Children's hospital, including five in the intensive care unit and two on ventilators. None are fully vaccinated he said, including 12 who are under 12 years old who are not eligible for vaccination.
"There will be no statewide mask mandate imposed by me, and the legislature, of course, has made that clear as well. This is not about a debate about mask mandates for those who can make their own decisions and have means to get vaccinated; this is a discussion about the school environment ... and for the children they have responsibility to protect," he said.
"There's no discussion about restrictions on business, mandates on businesses; we are wide open in Arkansas. We're going to be doing business in Arkansas. We have to live with the threat of the virus," the governor added. "This is all about the children and their health."