Last week the Arkansas Legislature meet for special session, and a lot happened. Check out our timeline below or scroll down for the text version.
- Asa declares a public health emergency amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and says he will call the legislature back for special session to:
- Change Act 1002, which prevents public-funded entities, like schools, from requiring masks.
- Approve the Governor’s decision to cut federal unemployment benefits available because of the pandemic.
- Asa says there will not be another statewide mask mandate or any new business guidelines regarding public safety.
- Tom Mars upholds his promise to file a lawsuit against Act 1002 in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
- The Arkansas legislature meets as a whole to approve Asa’s emergency declaration. Both chambers adjourn after less than 20 minutes. They declare that the state’s public health emergency will stay in place for 60 days starting from July 29.
- Marion School District Superintendent Glen Fenter announces that officials have identified 43 positive COVID cases and that 730 students and staff have been quarantined.
- Special session starts, and members begin filing legislation. Sen. Dismang files SB1, which lets the Governor opt out of federal unemployment benefits. Rep. Mayberry files HB1003, which allows school districts to implement mask mandates under specific requirements. HB1003 and SB 1 are referred to Public Health; meetings are set for the afternoon.
- SB2 is filed and referred to Senate Education. A meeting is set for the following morning. Senate Public Health meets briefly, and SB1 receives a Do Pass.
- In House Public Health, Rep. Mary Bentley tells Dr. Young (an infections disease specialist) that she should “do more research.” Bentley also says kids don’t know how to wear masks properly and that kids need to get COVID to build “natural immunity,” even though children are dying form the Delta variant.
- After several hours, Rep. Mayberry decides to pull the bill down to work on amendments our he colleagues’ suggestions. Day one of the special session comes to an end.
- Senate Education meets for 2 minutes and 22 seconds. Sen. Missy Irvin silences the public, citing a rule where a bill must filed 24 hours before it can be heard in committee. However, both Public Health Committees suspended that rule the previous day.
- Sen. Irvin gavels out before any members can make a motion. Consequently, the live stream ended. Sen. Joyce Elliott and other committee members stay behind to hear build testimony. Later, Sen. Trent Garner causes a scene, interrupts a pediatrics doctor, and protests the meeting for “lack of transparency.”
- The House and Senate both convene. House passes HB1001 (companion to SB1). Rep. Mayberry makes a motion to amend HB1003, but the motion is voted down. The Senate passes SB1; Senate and House Public Health committees meet later that day.
- Sen. Bledsoe suspends rules so that Senate Public Health may hear HB1001, which was referred to the committee earlier that morning. HB1001 receives a Do Pass.
- House Public Health meets again; Representatives Tippi McCullough and Denise Garner present HB1004, which allows school districts to implement mask mandates. After house of testimony, HB1004 fails. Rep. Mayberry attempts to amend HB1003 again, but her colleagues vote no on the amendments and the bill itself.
- Marion School District announces that an additional 109 students and staff members are to be quarantined, totaling 839. Day two of special session ends.
- House and Senate meet in the morning to adjourn their extraordinary session; no bills are passed to #saveARkids.
- Tom Mars seeks an injunction on Act 1002 following the conclusion of the special session. Judge Fox says that the new law infringes on the Governor’s authority to mandate masks in emergencies and that the law is discriminatory since it does not include private schools.
“Act 1002 cannot be enforced in any shape or form pending further review.” – Judge Fox
- School Districts begin voting on mask mandates.
“If we had masks on our students and our faculty from day one instead of having 1,200 quarantines, we would have experienced roughly 100.” – Dr. Fenter, Marion School District Superintendent
- Marion School District confirms nearly 100 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID.
- Sen. Trent Garner’s own El Dorado School District votes for mask mandates.