Arkansas lawmakers reject bill on right to vaccination status privacy, close session

FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this 2019 file photo.

Arkansas lawmakers closed out the 93rd regular legislative session on Friday after rejecting a bill that would have created a right to privacy with regard to covid-19 vaccination status.

Both the House and Senate approved resolutions allowing the state Legislature to recess for the regular session while authorizing legislative leadership to reconvene at any time before noon Oct. 15 to consider vetoes, correct errors or oversights, or adjourn the regular session.

Legislators reconvened last week after taking an extended recess to wait for the 2020 U.S. Census data they needed to redraw the state’s congressional districts.

In addition to passing a redistricting plan, lawmakers sent the governor two bills targeting employer-mandated coronavirus vaccinations. Senate Bill 739 and House Bill 1977 would require employers to create an exemption process if they have a vaccine mandate for their workers.

But the House on Friday morning rejected Senate Bill 731 by state Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, which would have prohibited employers from asking about a worker’s vaccination status. Some lawmakers said that measure went too far.

“One overreach by the state does not eliminate the overreach by the federal government, and this is an overreach,” House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said.

Ballinger said he is disappointed that the House rejected his bill. He said people are going to be fired because they refuse to take the covid-19 vaccine, and argued that the state Legislature had an opportunity to prevent that but prematurely “caved to the feds.”

More details in Saturday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

12:26 p.m.: Arkansas House rejects ban on employee vaccine disclosures

Arkansas lawmakers on Friday rejected legislation that would have prevented businesses from requiring employees to say whether they've been vaccinated against covid-19.

The majority-Republican House voted 41-46 in favor of the Senate-backed bill, which would have created a "right of privacy" for employees and contractors regarding their vaccination status. The proposal would allow employees to sue under the state's civil rights law for any violations.

The proposal is among several limiting or prohibiting employer vaccine requirements that have dominated a session that was intended to focus on congressional redistricting. The proposals have primarily been in response to President Joe Biden's order that businesses with more than 100 employees must require vaccinations or weekly testing.

Opponents said the proposal would force businesses to choose between exposing themselves to lawsuits by workers or face federal fines for not complying with Biden's order. They also said it would have jeopardized Medicaid and Medicare funding for health care facilities throughout the state.

— The Associated Press