An Arkansas House committee failed to advance two bills that would have amended the state’s current ban on mask mandates, likely ending the chance of passing before the end of the special session. By a series of voice votes Thursday, members of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor did not pass either House Bill 1003 or House Bill 1004. Both would have given school boards the authority to require the wearing of masks.
House Bill 1004, which the committee considered after over two hours of public testimony, would give public school boards or the governing body of an open-enrollment charter school a broader ability to mandate the wearing of masks, face shield or other coverings to "reduce the spread of infectious, contagious and communicable diseases."
Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, was one of two Democratic lawmakers to present the bill.
"I know that kids are resilient and adapt much better than we do most the time. None of this has been easy on them, but I still feel we should default to best medical practices and credible research to determine and guide the best ways to keep them safe," McCullough said.
Nearly 20 people, many of them parents of school-aged children, spoke on the bill, with those for and against almost evenly split.
House Bill 1003, which the same committee discussed and heard nearly three hours of testimony over on Wednesday before its sponsor pulled it down for amendments, allows school districts to implement mask mandates for up to 60 days if their district meets the rate of 50 new cases per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period.
An amendment to the bill, which lowered how long the mandate could last to 21 days and also lowered the qualifying case rate to 30 cases per 10,000 also failed before the bill failed overall.
In speaking for the bill, Rep. Deborah Ferguson. D-West Memphis, said society frequently makes sacrifices for the common good.
"This not about, 'I don’t want my child to wear a mask.' This is about all children wearing a mask to protect other children. It’s about schools protecting everyone in the school," Ferguson said.
The special session, called by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to both amend the current mask ban and affirm Arkansas’ decision to no longer participate in federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance programs, is scheduled to end Friday.