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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Conservative, flexible

July 28, 2021 at 3:39 a.m.

Can conservatives be flexible? Of course. They just need a little time to stretch and limber up. It might take a few years, but eventually a graceful conservative can loosen up.

The big political, medical and educational news in Arkansas these days is whether the governor and legislative leaders can rethink this state law that prohibits schools and other government entities from requiring masks when said law takes effect today.

That is, can changing circumstances loosen up our elected officials?

Only a month ago, this pandemic looked to be on the downswing. In March and April we were all talking about summer barbecues and fall football. The Legislature, in its session earlier this year, passed Act 1002's ban on government mask mandates.

Then the Delta variant hit.

The CDC is asking even vaccinated folks to wear masks indoors again. More countries in Europe are going to require passes to enter bars and restaurants. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will mandate shots for its front-line workers.

In Arkansas, nearly 1,000 people are in the hospital with covid. On Tuesday, the paper reported the death toll in this state rose by 23 in one day, to 6,077. That death tally was the largest one-day increase since March 12.

And school starts in a few weeks.

Should those schools be able--to have the option, to be able--to require masks?

"I think from a conservative standpoint," the governor says, "you certainly can make the point that local school districts ought to be able to make their own decisions as to what is in the best health [interests] of their students."

Will the Arkansas General Assembly be that conservative and flexible?

"The hard and fast question is, is there support to revisit the issue from a legislative standpoint?" asks Matthew Shepherd, speaker of the state House.

Yes, that's the question, hard and fast.

The Senate pro tempore, Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana, says the Legislature may not be able to revisit any of this without a special session. And if anything is changed in regard to the law, it might take two-thirds of the Ledge to pass an emergency clause. None of this will be easy.

But if it isn't done, the people of Arkansas are going to blame some people, and those "some people" will likely be elected members of the Legislature. Will members be flexible and conservative enough to save lives?

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