Arkansas Senate approves ban on covid-19 vaccine mandates for public entities

State Sen. Joshua Bryant, R-Rogers, speaks during the Senate Committee on Education meeting at the state Capitol in this Jan. 25, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

A bill intended to extend a ban on covid-19 vaccine mandates for public entities sailed through the Arkansas Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. Joshua Bryant, R-Rogers, passed with a vote of 27-3 and moves to the House for further action.

Bryant has said the bill is needed to reinstate a mandate ban originally included in Act 977 of 2021, which he said expired in August.

Under SB 3, state and local government officials would be barred from mandating or requiring an individual to receive a vaccine or immunization for covid-19 or any subvariants of the virus.

Officials also would be prohibited from requiring a person to receive a vaccine as a condition of education, employment, entry or services from the state or a state agency or entity or for obtaining a licensure certificate or permit from a state agency entity.

If a public entity determines it must require vaccines to receive federal funding, the entity would have to receive approval from the Arkansas Legislative Council before instituting a mandate under SB 3.

Another provision in SB 3 would require the Arkansas Department of Health to maintain information and data on "any potential risks and harms associated with the administration of the vaccine or immunization" for covid-19 or subvariants of the virus and make the information and data publicly available.

State and local officials are also barred from coercing individuals to receive covid-19 vaccinations or discriminating against individuals who have not received a shot.

The Arkansas House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor on Tuesday approved House Bill 1002, which mirrors SB 3. HB 1002 advances to the full House for further action.