- Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to reverse a ban on mask mandates that he approved just four months ago.
- He said he regrets signing the law and has called for a special session to amend it.
- “Everything has changed now,” the Arkansas governor said.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to reverse a ban on mask mandates that he enacted just a few months ago.
The Republican governor signed a bill in April to prohibit state and local officials from enforcing mask requirements. At the time, coronavirus cases were declining, so additional mandates were no longer needed, Hutchinson reasoned.
Now, he says he regrets the decision, as the highly contagious Delta variant has overwhelmed the state with an explosion of new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
“I signed it at the time because our cases were at a very low point. I knew it would be overridden by the legislature if I didn’t sign it,” Hutchinson said during a press conference on Tuesday. “And I had already eliminated our statewide mask mandate. And so I signed it for those reasons that our cases were at a low point. Everything has changed now.”
“Yes, in hindsight, I wish that it had not become law,” he added. “But it is the law, and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation.”
-The Recount (@therecount) August 4, 2021
Hutchinson has now called for a special legislative session to amend the law. He said he’s especially concerned for children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine but plan to return to in-person schooling in the fall and may be susceptible to the virus.
“Last week, Children’s daily census of 24 COVID-19 patients was a 50 percent increase over previous peaks. Because of this increased risk of illness in children, we see the necessity of allowing leaders in school districts the flexibility to decide whether students wear masks. We must allow local school boards to make the best decision for the students in their schools,” Hutchinson said in a statement.
But other state lawmakers may be unwilling to embrace his position.
“I understand that some legislators are reluctant to allow school boards this freedom, even in this limited way,” Hutchinson said. “But the exceptions for which I am asking are true to the conservative principle that puts control in the hands of local government.”
Arkansas has seen a steady uptick in coronavirus cases since July. The current daily average of new infections is 1,943, up 66% over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times. That’s much higher than the daily average of 187 new cases on April 29, when Hutchinson signed the ban on mask mandates into law.
The governor has also faced challenges in getting his state vaccinated against coronavirus. As of Wednesday, 46% of adults have been fully vaccinated.
“It’s a conservative state. Sometimes conservatives are hesitant about the government. And we just got to counteract that by getting better information to them, building confidence,” Hutchinson said last month.
Hutchinson did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.