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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, asks a question during debate on an amendment to the Senate’s covid-19 rainy day fund bill Thursday during a special session at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe) ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

Most of the Arkansas Senate Republicans have signed a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking the Republican governor to issue an executive order and call a special session to provide some form of liability protection for business owners and health care professionals amid the covid-19 pandemic, Senate Republican leader Bart Hester said Tuesday.

Hester said 23 of the 26 Senate Republicans signed the letter from him and Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, to the governor.

They asked the governor to issue an executive order extending immunity with regard to claims involving contraction of covid-19 to health care providers, businesses and their workers providing critical services, goods and facilities for an appropriate amount of time.

In addition, they asked the governor to issue a call for a special session to adopt legislation providing appropriate immunity with regard to claims involving contraction of covid-19 to businesses and health care workers.

Hester said draft bills have been provided to the governor and House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and he hopes legislation is developed by the end of this week. He said he hopes for a special session between the middle and late June.

Senate Democratic leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis said Tuesday he knew Senate Republicans "were batting [this] around.” But he said he hadn’t seen the letter yet.

Asked whether there is a need for a special session, Shepherd said, “I would need to look at the bill and compare it to what’s in place.”

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Arkansas and about 60 other business groups and chambers of commerce said in a letter dated May 5 to the governor that “we are extremely grateful” for Hutchinson recognizing the need for protection from civil liability for certain health care and emergency providers under the governor’s Executive Order 20-18.

“However, greater protections are needed,” according to the May 5 letter, signed by groups such as the Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Health Care Association, Arkansas Poultry Federation, Arkansas Trucking Association and Arkansas Hospitality Association.

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