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Arkansas Lawmakers Decline To Repeal Public Health Emergency

Arkansas Legislature

The public health emergency recently re-declared by Gov. Asa Hutchinson will continue after state legislators decided not to repeal it.

Members of the Arkansas Legislature ultimately took no action Tuesday to rescind the state of emergency the governor declared late last month in response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Republican House Speaker Matthew Shepherd said both chambers were required to meet as a result of a new state law.

“If the governor declares a statewide state of disaster emergency related to public health, the House of Representatives and the Senate shall each convene as a committee of the whole within eight business days of the declaration to vote upon and debate a concurrent resolution to terminate the statewide state of disaster emergency related to public health,” Shepherd said.

Act 403, which became law in the most recent legislative session, requires lawmakers to consider repealing an emergency declared by the governor, but does not require lawmakers to take any action. Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared the public health emergency on July 29, and it is set to expire in late September.

Speaking during a news conference Tuesday, Hutchinson said he was grateful for the quick action of the legislature to approve the emergency.

“And so now we all have one voice that there is a current public health emergency in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “This is an example of how the relationship between the executive and legislative branches can work successfully without delaying any emergency actions."

Legislators are also expected to convene again Wednesday as part of a special session to consider amending a law that prohibits state and local government entities from requiring face masks.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.