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Arkansas governor allows vaccine mandate opt-out bills to become law

Arkansas governor allows vaccine mandate opt-out bills to become law
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson allows for employees to opt out of the federal government's vaccine mandate. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed for legislation to go into effect permitting employees to opt out of President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate.

The Republican governor allowed for Senate Bill 739 and House Bill 1977 to become law on Wednesday, despite his disapproval of them as they discourage people from getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"These bills are unnecessary, and the debate on these bills have been harmful to our goal of increasing vaccination rates in Arkansas," he said during a press conference. "For these reasons, I will not sign the bills into law. I will allow them to become law without my signature."

In Arkansas, bills become law if the governor does not veto them within five days of them landing on his desk.

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The legislation to allow employees to opt out of vaccine mandates comes in response to Biden last month issuing vaccine mandates for federal workers and businesses with a workforce of 100 or more employees.

Hutchinson said he disagrees with the federal vaccine mandate but the answer is not putting in place additional rules at the state level.

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"The solution is not to put employers in a squeeze play between the federal government and state government," he said. "Employers need the freedom to protect their employees and their customers and the government should not interfere with that freedom through mandates."

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Hutchinson continued that the federal mandate includes exemptions for religious and medical reasons while allowing those who do not wish to receive the vaccine to undergo weekly testing.

He added that the the bills and talk of the bills create distrust and hesitancy around the COVID-19 vaccines, which he said "are safe and have been carefully tested and evaluated."

"Arkansans need to get vaccinated but not through mandates from the federal level or from the state level," he said.

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Another reason for not vetoing the laws, he said, was that they will go into effect in 90 days, which will allow "critical time" for them to be assessed and challenged in court.

Both bills were overwhelming passed by the state's General Assembly.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Arkansas is among the lowest vaccinated states in the country with 56.4% of its nearly 3 million population having received at least one shot and 46.5% being fully vaccinated.

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