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OPINION | EDITORIAL: This one is special

A session to undo a done deal August 1, 2021 at 1:55 a.m.

It's one of our favorite quotes, and it's by an economist of some note named Milton Friedman: "One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results." You can have that embroidered on a pillow. It's useful in all kinds of situations.

Earlier this year, as it appeared the world would soon come out of the pandemic hibernation, lawmakers in Arkansas took up the anti- mask cause that bothered so many of their constituents. And bother they did. Masks are uncomfortable buggers. Especially in this heat. How many times, back in the spring, did you get halfway to the Walmart door before you had to turn back to the car to get your mask? Drat!

So the General Assembly passed a bill--it's called Act 1002 now--that would ban mask mandates in public buildings.

Public buildings includes schools. It doesn't get much more public-funded than that.

Then this Delta variant hit the world/country/state/neighborhood. On Thursday, during a news conference by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, he noted that the state's count of cases rose by 2,843. That's a January-type number.

The deaths keep going up. And hospitalizations. And schools are about to re-open in the next few weeks. Flu season isn't far away.

So the governor reinstated the state's public health emergency on Thursday. And he said he would call a special session to lift Act 1002 prohibitions this week.

To underscore how serious things are in Arkansas, the governor also said he would ask other states to send health-care workers here to help out at hospitals, which are understaffed for the number of patients therein.

The governor has extended the emergency proclamation for 60 days (it'll have to be reviewed by the Legislature), and for good reason.

As Asa Hutchinson put it: "The reason for it is, we are in a public health emergency. Any time you're having staffing shortages in hospitals, whenever we have ... four covid patients that are waiting in ambulances to be able to find a hospital to go to, that constitutes an emergency and a public health crisis."

Forget the DMV for a minute, because that's not the issue now. But if there is a local school board in a county in which the covid numbers are spiking--and there could be many in the coming weeks--then why should the state keep that county from taking all measures the local officials think might help? Isn't it conservative to want local control whenever possible?

Remember, kids 12 and under aren't eligible to receive the vaccines. And although past covid numbers show young children aren't especially hurt by this virus, that doesn't mean none of them are. And it doesn't mean next month's variant might not target different age groups.

"And right now we have a prohibition that's enacted by statute, which is Act 1002, that prohibits the local school districts from making local decisions on what they should do, public-health wise, in their school system," the governor said. Thus the special session, probably this week, to give local decision makers the authority to protect their own students.

The governor said lawmakers have told him this'll be a "heavy lift." But that's why We the People elect leaders.

To quote the governor again, because it's important:

"There will be no statewide mask mandate imposed by me--and the Legislature has made that clear as well. This is not a debate about mask mandates for those who can make their own decisions and have means to get vaccinated. This is a discussion about the school environment where the schools can make decisions ... for the children they have the responsibility to protect."

The state isn't about to start telling businesses what to do on masks, he assures. Since kids under 12 can't be vaccinated, this is a K-12 protection plan only. Where districts want such authority. Right now, their hands are tied. And shouldn't be.

This isn't, or shouldn't be, a nasty fight between certain lawmakers who want to prove their conservative bona fides and the rest of us. This special session vote should be about allowing locals to make calls on a health-care issue that could affect kids.

As the governor pointed out at his press conference, Arkansas Children's Hospital had 24 adolescents in the hospital last week. Two were on ventilators. Five were in ICU. And 12 of the 24 were under the age of 12, and not eligible for the vaccine.

This should be an easy call for all lawmakers. Those who are so inclined can prove their bona fides later.

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