House Public Health Committee
September 29, 2021
Ladyman [00:00:02] Those in the audience, if you wish to speak for or against a bill, please sign up on the sign up sheet that we have out there. So committee members, we don’t have a lot of time. As you probably know, state agencies is going to reconvene at 6:00. So we’re going to be limited on time. We can’t go beyond that. So we’re going to get right into the bills here. We have two bills to consider today. We have a number of people that have signed up to speak on the bills, for the bills and against the bills. So we’re going to start with HB 1972. Representative Bryant, you’re recognized to present your bill. Do we have copies of the bills? OK. Are we getting copies? Hard copies. Okay members, we don’t have hard copies of the bill. It is online. We can get copies. Some people don’t have their computers. There’s two bills, House Bill 1972 and House Bill 1973. Do you all have copies? Is there anyone that does not have a copy or an electronic copy? Committee, hold on just a minute. We’re going to try to have some paper copies if you need them. Are these extra? I do have a couple of extra copies up here if somebody needs them. We’re trying to get some more made. So we’ll wait for just a few minutes. Who needs a copy? Raise your hand if you need to copy. Anybody? Anybody over here on this side need a hard copy? I think– OK, Representative Bryant, you’re recognized to present HB 1972.
Bryant [00:03:56] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, committee. First, let me start off by saying, I, I think it’s wonderful that we are able to hear these bills to at least start the debate on an issue that has affected so many districts across the state, including mine. Northwest Arkansas has the unique opportunity to have lots of Fortune 500 businesses in the area. So while that is a blessing, one of the things it creates is somewhat of a corporate oligarchy for our area. So my constituent base is made up of white collar professionals that live on the lake all the way through down to support industries for these for these corporations. And while they enjoy their employment, they worked through the COVID 19 pandemic. They are faced with a new challenge of accepting something to put in their bodies that they don’t feel comfortable with or risk termination. So the reason I got involved with this is– the first time I got the call, I thought, Well, that’s, that’s business. As a, as a conservative, I don’t want extra regulations on business. Um, I think my, my work history and my voting record would, would ideally support that statement. But when it came down to it is, the businesses weren’t playing fair. They were– we would, we would encourage– I would encourage them, Hey, you need to go get exemptions. There’s title nine exemptions for this issue. Go ask for religious accommodation, go ask for medical, medical accommodations and, and have those conversations with your employer. And so they did that. And the whole time they are, they are just getting badgered to get the vaccine. They’re getting threatened to be immediately fired. Every employer tried a different tactic with employees, and it wasn’t just my constituents. It was– several of you have contacted me, House members and Senate members, to discuss what these employers are doing for tactics to get vaccinated. Now I can understand if they’re, if they’re just using these as tactics. We didn’t know once the, once the final hour dropped and the hammer hit, and we still don’t know because a lot of these dates are not until October 1st, which is Friday, what that means for the employees. Therefore it’s easy for the, the hospitals to say we haven’t fired anybody yet, and it’s probably true. They haven’t. But nonetheless, I still have nurses and doctors today and several will probably testify, they are still have that threat of the job. So what I found out is, is these employees would– are honoring several of these title nine exemptions. They say, You are, you are approved for your religious accommodation. And I think we heard from testimony during the interim that even though they were approved, they were given an immediate suspension of up to one year non paid. In the, in the event they changed their mind and decided to accept the vaccination, they could reapply for their job. Or the event the company changed their policy, they may get a call back and not take their job that they lost, but take another lower paying job. Well, then it came down to well, if you get– if you lose your job, there’s plenty of jobs in the market. Just go find you one. You know, and then you have a 28-year quality assurance chicken inspector saying, Yeah, great, I’ll, I’ll start back at the bottom again, and you know, I’ll lose all my pension. I’ll lose everything I got that I’ve worked to build for 28 years to be back making, you know, minimum wage, maybe a little better to try to support a family of which we have had a great income for the last 10 years because I’ve worked hard for this company to get it. You have that challenge with he’s like, Oh, and by the way, one of the programmers that worked in an office setting gets to keep his job because they can’t lose him. So how is that fair? And then, oh, by the way, the federal worker who stands right beside me gets to keep his job because the federal government gave him accommodation to, to allow him to test weekly and wear a mask. So the reason I– that this 9– House bill 1972 is attractive to me is it, it possibly gives more standardization to the businesses that are so loose with their accommodation strategy. Again, I think what, what we’re faced with is we don’t want regulation on businesses, but we want to allow personal freedoms and liberty. So when those two come together and meet, you just have to step on one side of the fence. The fence I’m stepping off of and into is, is the side of personal liberty. And I don’t think our, our founders decided that personal liberty trumps corporate. So what we’ve done is we’ve given corporate America liability protections. So if, if a condition of employment is given to an employee and that employee gets injured performing that condition of employment, that employer is liable. Employer can say, go, go, shave your head. Well, if they shaved their head, that’s a condition of employment, and they get a fungal infection, there’s liability protections, workers comp, there’s avenues. If they get that shot of which they are truly fearful of then there is no protections. The Federal, um, um, um, Protection, um, Vaccination Act of 1986, I believe, from the federal government exempts liability for manufacturers. And then our own rulings through the, uh, CARES Act and other acts out of Congress says you’re not liable even if you put your own vaccination clinic on your grounds and give it your employees that way. So we’ve basically allowed corporate America to become a state actor in pushing vaccines. So what this bill does, it says, if you decide to do that, if you decide to push a vaccine mandate, we want you to also allow for a matter of basically consistency to provide a negative test as an alternative, negative antigen test or a T cell test to prove that there is basically protections within that, that member, that employee, that mirror or rival a vaccination status. Because there’s still too many questions on this vaccination. There’s still too much information not yet gathered on this vaccination to determine the effectiveness. So if, if the federal government says, Hey, we’re doing boosters now, so does that mean every eight months employee has to get a booster to keep their employment? Ultimately, it, it would be when does it end? This bill also has a sunset date. So at the end of July 2023 after the 94th general session, we’re able to determine which gives us plenty of time to determine do we have the data we need to support maybe keeping this in place? Or, Hey, it’s been long enough, as it probably should have been to determine if the vaccines– you know, where they fall. Because if you look at the VAERS data, the vaccine injury rates, there are over 15,000 deaths, which you might look at the scheme of things is that– over a million plus vaccinations, is it worth it? Well, considering other vaccines, just, you know, a couple of, couple of deaths. I had reason to, to basically recall and look at it. I think there is just cause to say, Hey, we need to protect our citizens and allow them to keep employment, not lose their personal liability, and just, you know, ask employers to do these basic things to keep them on the payroll. Um, a couple other questions that probably came up on this is what about funding? You know, what if the federal government pushes out funding, and they won’t allow you to take this funding because you’re not allowing vaccinations? Well, we don’t know the answer to that. There is no rules for seeing this guidance or funding. When that does occur,, there are several other states that have already implemented their own pushback on the vaccine mandates. So I imagine it would go to litigation. I imagine it’ll take time to figure it out, and we’ll just be another state that needs to to figure out, you know, what we’re going to allow the federal government to push into versus what we need to push back on. The cost of these, as seen on Page 3, you know, if you’re an employer and you’ve got to bear the cost, what is that going to be? Well, ideally through this, you use the employee’s health benefit plan. If that plan doesn’t cover it, then the employer will cover it by asking for American Rescue Plan funds, of which this bill asks DFA to basically implement a fund with several provisions of timely payments and accuracy to reimburse employer. You know, and that, that agreement could be just say, Hey, go down– most people have malls in their community. I’ve got two malls. There’s, you know, trailers set up and people go get tested daily, and it’s all part of, part of the American Rescue Plan funding that. So I think there’s plenty of avenues to, you know, for employers to navigate, to make this workable, to make it consistent with, with, you know, how they do business and not treat one employee differently because he matters more to that company than another employee that, you know, may not matter as much. And the last provision is if they are terminated and solely on their refusal to be vaccinated, that they will not be disqualified for the benefits that they have paid into and rightly deserve. So with that, I’ll try to answer any questions that the body may have.
Ladyman [00:14:06] Yeah, representative Boyd, you’re recognized for a question.
Boyd [00:14:10] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative, I, I understand you, you can only speak to one bill at a time, but I’m a little confused because there’s another bill that I’m like, if this one passes, what does that mean for the second one? So can you just quickly give us an overview? Do you plan to present both of these?
Bryant [00:14:26] I, I do plan to present it. As, as you know, from looking across the the way the Senate has even more bills than these. Um, we’re not sure, you know, where the chips are going to fall. I, I’d like to see us act as an independent body and have both these opportunities for, for the assembly to hear. One deals with just, you know, keep, keep the mandate in place. It’s important to note that, especially House Bill 1972, that it doesn’t affect additional conditions of employment and contract work. Like that, that is not the intent of the bill. It’s it’s, you know, we’re still a right to work state. They can still terminate at will, whereas House Bill 1973 is probably a little more aggressive. It prohibits them from even asking vaccination status, which may be, you know, if I’m an employee may be a little more beneficial because then it’d be on the employer to act that you did not terminate me based on me not telling you my status.
Boyd [00:15:26] I have another question, Mr. Chair. May I ask it?
Ladyman [00:15:29] Yes, you’re recognized.
Boyd [00:15:31] OK, so talk to me about this natural immunity. I understand it. But let me give you a little frame, OK? COVID 19 is not the flu. It’s not the cold virus. It’s not a rhinovirus. It’s specifically a coronavirus. And I get that. But it’s new. It’s mutating. So in all of this that’s happening, we have to look at and we have to go, what do we really know to be true? And what I know is true is I can have the flu last year and I can still wind up with the flu this year. It’s a respiratory virus. It’s not the same respiratory virus as COVID 19. I get that. But my point is this virus is mutating. So if I had the original strain, how do I know the antibodies that are produced from the original strain or the T-cell immunity– help me understand how I’m confident that with the original strain, that’s going to mean I’m immune to Delta or Mu or Lambda or whatever the next strain is that that comes through. So please help me understand that. Thank you.
Bryant [00:16:37] Yeah, I, I, I wish I was smarter in dealing with, with that question. I mean, the research that I’ve looked at is, is as you, as you– taking a virus and your, your body produces antibodies. And I’m, like I said, I’m giving you just the research I’ve read in NIH and the CD– there’s different studies I’ve read that your body creates, um, antibodies that fight all var– all sequences of that virus. And they know, you know, that there– if there’s, you know, 14,000 different attack modes on this, your body is developing it and fighting those with those antibodies. You get through the illness, you get well, the antibodies start to recede into your T cell, basically memory. And then any time the, the next variant comes along, they can recognize that they have some of the same factors. I think the best analogy I got is, um, listened to a podcast said, take it as, as a burglar enters your house. You know their smell. You know the color of their eyes. You know their hair color. You know the color of their skin. There’s all these attributing factors that you know about this burglar versus with a, with the vaccine they give you one, one factor. They give you, hey, the burglar was, you know, six foot tall. So the next time your door gets kicked in and you see a six foot tall guy there, you’re going to, you’re going to start to go. They say, Well, that’s the genius of the vaccine. You’re going to go get it. But with the T cell defense immunity, that’s like, not only is he six feet tall, he also has the same hair color, the same eye color, the same skin color. You got all these different attributing factors. So when that variant comes in and he’s six foot tall, but instead of a brown hair, he’s got black hair. But he’s still got same color eyes, same this, this, your body is going to basically know to go towards that and defeat it versus with– if the next variant comes with the vaccine, which is what we’re seeing, it’s not as effective because it maybe six foot, but it may be different colored eyes, hair, smell and they might be fighting something that really isn’t a threat at all. So those, those are basically, I, I, you know, examples I was given on how T-cell not only adapts and has a better chance, a better effectnesses, effectiveness against the viruses that as it mutates than the vaccine. But it also would be, would be a proven factor in that. I guess lastly to add is, is I read an article from, I believe it was Harvard that said that they– in the 90s, they studied surviving members of our community that went through the 1900– early 1900’s Spanish flu, and they were still able to detect inside their T cells antibodies that could fight the Spanish flu or what they know of it. So that’s a long way around your question. I don’t know if it, if I hit on anything that you were asking.
Ladyman [00:19:52] Representative Cloud, you’re recognized for a question.
Cloud [00:19:56] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Representative Bryant, for bringing this forward. I have a question about one of the reasonings that we have been given for mandating a vaccine is that these employers provide an exemption. They provide for an opt out. And my question is, is we know that some employers have made noises that if you claim this exemption for this specific vaccination, then you’re going to be held to that same standard for any vaccination. So does your bill protect those employees from, from that blanket if you don’t get a coronavirus vaccine, then– but you better not get any other vaccine?
Bryant [00:20:47] I believe since we were just dealing with the coronavirus, it would only, in my opinion, it would only affect the coronas virus vaccine. I don’t know if you’re talking about maybe the flu, I don’t think it would prohibit them from still mandating a flu vaccine. In the, in the eyes of myself and several my constituents, the people I talked to, you know, those are, those are different because they actually have valid testing. They didn’t, they didn’t call the flu vaccine Operation Warp Speed to get it inside their bodies. They didn’t have the same VAERS activity that they had during, you know, getting a flu shot. Do people die from flu vaccines? Absolutely. They have– you know, statistics would say they have to. But do they die at a rate of 15,000? Do they die at a rate of– you know, right now in Arkansas, 25 percent of people that are vaccinated die by the statistics, whereas 19 percent of the unvaccinated have died. So those statistics are out there. So I, I don’t think to your question, it would, it would provide exemptions for any other vaccine. It only applied to the corona vaccine.
Cloud [00:21:51] Just a follow up comment.
Ladyman [00:21:53] Yes, you’re recognized.
Cloud [00:21:54] If we’re going to provide some protection for our employees, it might be good to consider that. In other words, I don’t want to do something and then all of a sudden we realize we’ve left a loophole open. Thank you.
Ladyman [00:22:09] Representative Eubanks, you’re recognized for a question.
Eubanks [00:22:15] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to make sure I got it, this straight in my mind, you’re, you’re saying that if– your bill is saying that a person can refuse the vaccine if they can prove that they have, I assume, had COVID so that they have antibodies in their system or that they agree to weekly tests. Is that–.
Bryant [00:22:41] Correct.
Eubanks [00:22:42] OK, so I don’t know that I have too much of a problem with that part of it until we get to the unemployment benefits because how can they be fired solely for refusing to get the vaccine? They would have to be refusing to show evidence of antibodies or refusing the weekly test as well, would they not, in order to qualify for unemployment benefits?
Bryant [00:23:15] Yeah, I think what we’re saying is that if they, if they’ve done all that, yet they– and the employer still says, “Well, that’s not good enough. You don’t want take the vaccine, I’m going to fire you,” is that not only will– is there compensation allowed through the– see if I can find that– it may be the other bill that addresses the American Rescue Plans as far as that– yeah, but not, not only is that, you know, would they have to– they could say, Hey, yes, we’re doing all this, and the employer says it’s not good enough, we’re not–
Eubanks [00:23:54] But you’re– we’re pas– potentially passing a statute here that says that employer has to accept either the proof of the antibodies or the weekly testing or they can’t require the vaccine.
Bryant [00:24:12] Yeah, that, that’s–
Eubanks [00:24:13] If that’s the case, then they– how could they terminate them for not getting the vaccine if they’re doing one of those two things?
Bryant [00:24:21] The employee would have to prove that that’s why they got terminated. So we’re, we’re still in employment at will, and but if the, if the employer says, Hey, we just don’t need you anymore. I mean, that’s, that’s their employment at will. I mean, they could, We just don’t need you. But if they make comments such as, Well, if you refuse to get the vaccine, I’m not taking your test, I’m not taking, I’m not taking your antibody tests or weekly tests, then this is saying, yeah, individuals should not be disqualified from the benefits if they’re terminated solely on the basis to refuse the vaccine.
Eubanks [00:24:54] Follow up.
Ladyman [00:24:56] Yes, you’re recognized.
Eubanks [00:24:59] I have a problem with– in allowing the unemployment benefits for an individual that refuses to follow company policy. And if, and, and if the law that you’re, you’re, you’re proposing here is basically going to dictate to the employer that you have to allow for the antibody test or the weekly testing, then I don’t, I, I don’t think the unemployment benefits should come into play at all. Personally. I just really have a problem with Section three, but–
Bryant [00:25:39] Okay, yeah. That’s, that’s the intent of the bill is to say if you’re, if you’re going to mandate, you’re also going to allow not only– yes, so if you want to get a vaccine, great. Go get a vaccine, they’ll check box you. But if you, if you don’t want to they, they also must provide an avenue for you to, to– you know, for them to accept this, these testing. And if they decide not to accept that and they’re still going to fire you just like employment at will where they fire you for no reason, you can still go draw unemployment benefits. It’s, it’s– it goes, I guess, from answer– to answer your question, I guess you’re saying, are we– are you getting terminated for insubordination versus are you just, you know, is the company not following the law if this passes versus is the employee just being insubordinate?
Eubanks [00:26:23] Mr. Chair, one, one more?
Ladyman [00:26:25] One more.
Eubanks [00:26:26] So if the, if the employee doesn’t get the vaccine, doesn’t want to get the antibody test and doesn’t want to be tested weekly, then the employer can fire them?
Bryant [00:26:41] Yes.
Eubanks [00:26:42] OK.
Ladyman [00:26:46] Representative Pilkington, you’re recognized for a question.
Pilkington [00:26:49] Thank you, Chairman Ladyman. Representative Bryant, earlier when you were answering Representative Cloud’s questions, you cited fatality rates on the vaccine. Can you, can you cite your source on that? I think you may have misspoke.
Bryant [00:27:02] So yeah, I had asked the chair and I, I decided against it just because there was, there was a little bit of, um, dialog within the email text of the FOIA body, so I, I, I did not provide it. But, um, there’s a– and I’m, I’m happy to provide this to, to the committee so they can view this just for certain. So what, what it is, is, is there’s a FOIA from a citizen in Farmington that FOIA’ed the Arkansas Department of Health after a successful, I believe a successful court case to force information, and I don’t think it was a refusal. I think it’s just they got such a backlog of FOIA requests they couldn’t get to it. And I’m happy if, if ADH wants to, to come and verify these, but they asked for statistics. There are ten questions that they asked the department and it all dealt with, um, at what date was COVID vaccine available to all Arkansans regardless of age group, occupational hazards, etc.? In other words, the date that the general public over the age of 18 had full access to COVID 19 vaccines and the date that the Department of Health gave them was March 30th of 2021. The second question– is it OK to read this or–.
Ladyman [00:28:30] Yeah, yeah, go ahead.
Bryant [00:28:31] It’s kind of progressive in its–
Ladyman [00:28:33] I’ll stop you if you get out of bounds.
Bryant [00:28:34] Okay. Understood. The question two is how many COVID 19 deaths were– after the date in question, how many COVID 19 deaths were reported in Arkansa? And they said since March 31st, 2021, 1,493 individuals have died from COVID. Question three, after the day in question, how many of those Arkansans of COVID 19 deaths were fully vaccinated individuals. And the answer was 179 of those deaths of the 1,493 were fully vaccinated. So if you did that math, 179– well, let me, let me keep reading these questions before I get off track. After the date in question, how many of those Arkansans of COVID 19 deaths were partially vaccinated? The department’s answer was 75 deaths were among those of partially vaccinated. After the date in question, how many of those Arkansan deaths of COVID 19 were unvaccinated? And the answer given by the department was 1,089 individuals of unvaccinated had died. After the date in question, how many fully vaccinated Arkansans were hospitalized due? And the answer they gave was 531 individuals were fully immunized prior to the diagnosis and were hospitalized. Going to your question, um, the, the graph of the fully vaccinated– total number of fully vaccinated, um, 710, deaths of 179 recoveries of 531. So the ratio of 179 deaths to 710 of those being fully vaccinated is 25.2 percent. Of the unvaccinated, the total number was 5,955, of which 1,164 deaths were related. 400– 4,791 recoveries, so the ratio of 11,000– I’m sorry, 1,164 deaths divided into 5,955 since March 31st came out to 19.5 percent. So again, that’s a– it’s, it’s obviously got more, more guts to that. But this was the FOIA information received from the Department of Health–.
Pilkington [00:30:44] Okay. Thank you.
Bryant [00:30:45] Since March 31st of twenty twenty one, when Arkansas was authorized to vaccinate anybody over the age of 18.
Pilkington [00:30:53] Thank you for walking me through that.
Ladyman [00:30:56] Representative Boyd, you’re recognized.
Boyd [00:31:01] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So let me go back quickly to Section three. I want to make sure I’m crystal clear on this. So if I’m an employee and I refuse to do the antibody testing and refuse to get the vaccine, I don’t produce natural immunity, then at that point in time, the employer could fire me, let me go. But this section three doesn’t apply because it says terminated solely due to refusal to be vaccinated. Is that correct, or is that your intent or–
Bryant [00:31:32] Yes.
Boyd [00:31:33] OK.
Bryant [00:31:33] Yes. Yeah. And I’m, I’m not fully at speed on unemployment benefits. As far as I– you know, the businesses I’ve ran, honestly, I’ve never terminated anybody. Either they left of their own volition, and I think I’ve gotten one request from workforce services as far as what happened. I got that little questionnaire as far as what happened because I did have an employee seek benefits, but they had left of their own accord. So I’m not sure, you know, in the, in the area of benefits of termination versus, you know, an employee just decides to walk away as far as what benefits they’re going to have. But yeah, what, what the intent of this is if the employer says you’re not– I’m not playing ball with any test, you’re just going to get– I’m just going to fire you because no mandate which violates the intent of this.
Boyd [00:32:16] So the key word is solely due to refusal to be vaccinated?
Bryant [00:32:22] Correct.
Boyd [00:32:23] OK. And then just one follow up to one other thing–.
Ladyman [00:32:27] Yes, go ahead.
Boyd [00:32:27] And then I’ll be quick. So back to your 19 percent versus 25 percent. If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying that 19 percent of the unvaccinated are likely to die or have this very bad outcome versus 25 percent of vaccinated? Is that what I’m–
Bryant [00:32:47] Yeah, it’s according to the math that the department, you know, gave this questionnaire.
Boyd [00:32:52] [00:32:52]So, so when you consider that, are you taking into account age and other conditions and other factors? Or are you just solely looking at vaccinated or unvaccinated?
Bryant [00:33:03] [00:33:03]This is just pure numbers. There’s no underlying factors contributed. It’s just pure numbers of what–
Boyd [00:33:09] [00:33:09]So the fact that 18 year olds to whatever 40 year olds are less likely to have been vaccinated than 65 and older, you’re not taking that in consideration.
Bryant [00:33:19] [00:33:19]Yeah, they, they didn’t go that specifically. The FOIA request didn’t go that specific. Just got to basic numbers.
Boyd [00:33:24] [00:33:24]I just don’t want to send the message that vaccines are necessarily killing people if, if we haven’t compared them in a true scientific way is I want clarity on.
Boyd [00:33:33] [00:33:33]Yeah. And this, this is just going with Arkansas since March 31st– just, just broad numbers. Yeah. And yeah, there could be dozens of underlying factors that can contribute to either side’s death due to the illness.
Boyd [00:33:45] Thank you.
Boyd [00:33:52] Vice Chair Ferguson, you’re recognized for a question.
Ferguson [00:33:55] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a question. The existing bill that I believe Representative Lundstrum passed, it allows hospitals to come to council and get an exemption and mandate vaccines. Would this bill override that and not allow hospitals to mandate vaccines if they’re given permission by council?
Bryant [00:34:15] Well, I believe Rep. Lundstrum’s bill was just for state agencies, not for private hospitals. Just– it was just for state hospitals, not for private institutions. So, I mean, that would be a separate– so those, those state institutions could probably still, per the previous act, could still come to the Legislative Council and ask for certain provisions.
Ferguson [00:34:36] [00:34:36]So this would not apply to state agencies or state hospitals? [10 second pause] Let me tell you why I’m asking the question, because I just had a meeting with UAMS, and CMS has a rule that’s coming out that will say that if hospitals do not mandate vaccines, then they lose Medicare Medicaid funding. So I don’t want us to do anything that’s going to prohibit hospitals from mandating vaccines when it completely would, you know, shut them down. Because if they don’t get Medicare Medicaid reimbursement, they can’t survive. So I mean, I’m concerned that your bill would certainly involve private hospitals. And I mean, for that reason, I, I, I don’t see how we can afford to do this as a state.
Bryant [00:35:37] Yeah. And I, and I understand that. And, and the answer I’ll give is, we don’t know. You know, they can say they’re going to do it, but is that, are they going to do it next month? Are they going to do it after–
Ferguson [00:35:46] [00:35:46]Next month.
Bryant [00:35:47] [00:35:47]–after the fall? Or, you know, so the next month, say the next month, they do that well–
Ferguson [00:35:50] [00:35:50]It’s going through rules and regs right now.
Bryant [00:35:52] [00:35:52]What kind of challenges are that– is that going to receive? When is it going to get not implemented? There’s a whole bunch of what ifs, the what ifs that we, that we know are that citizens are going to be nurses, doctors– there’ll be several speak here today are affected by those mandates. And are we as a state going to allow, you know, the federal government to tell us what to do because they’ve got a bag of money right there? And it sounds like several of us will say yes, it’s a bag of money. It’ll ruin us. But I would say litigation, pushing back on that, would probably stall that until we can figure out what the best case scenario is for the– for our citizens.
Ferguson [00:36:30] Yeah, I just hate us to put, put our hospitals in that kind of financial situation with this bill, but–.
Ladyman [00:36:36] Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized for a question.
Gonzales [00:36:39] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just had one question, but what she just said brought up another. If you don’t mind me asking a question on that first.
Ladyman [00:36:47] Go ahead.
Gonzales [00:36:50] So I believe you started off in your presentation saying that the federal government did provide exemptions. Do those exemptions carry over to hospitals currently, and would that still apply in this situation that she’s talking about with, with the funding? You know, where you’re not just opening this up for private employees to get– mandate, mandate that they have those same exemptions.
Bryant [00:37:12] Yeah, I, I would agree with that synopsis that if, if the federal government can take their Title 9 and say, you know what, you don’t get affected through CMS funding because we still have Title 9 provisions, even though as, as federal versus state, if the state has their own statutes, I think it could be argued, Hey, we, you know equal to Title 9, we’ve got our own statutes that we follow. Why would it affect funding when it’s, you know, it’s still our statute? So I, I think it could be litigated, you know, whether or not successfully, you know, possibly, you know, a stay on the CMS rules until it’s figured out. But like I said, again, there’s– I don’t know how many states to date– there’s at least a half dozen and growing that have adopted even more aggressive statutes than, than this that just says, Hey, give alternate means of protection to your workforce.
Ladyman [00:38:06] OK. Not now. Go ahead. Do you have another question?
Gonzales [00:38:09] Yeah, I do. But it’s totally unrelated to that. But I’ll carry on. Back to the unemployment benefits, it looks to me like, yes, going back to what Representative Eubanks was saying, yes, we’re, we’re telling them employers that this is illegal, you can’t do that. But it looks to me like the only recourse for the employee is that they can file for unemployment. There, there’s nothing if– without that part in there, there would be no teeth in this bill whatsoever, which I feel like that’s kind of a, a soft play anyway.
Bryant [00:38:41] Yeah, it is. You know, compared to other bills, even bills filed in the Senate that didn’t make it through the House process yet, this, this is, you know– that– you’re, you’re– I think you’re accurate. I think they’d have to just go get a private attorney and choose to go through, you know, litigation that way to see what kind of relief–
Gonzales [00:39:02] Without giving the unemployment, there’s no teeth to the employers and in this legislation, right?
Bryant [00:39:08] [nods]
Gonzales [00:39:08] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:39:10] Vice Chair Ferguson, you’re recognized for a comment.
Ferguson [00:39:12] Yeah, my other question, I searched and I couldn’t find [00:39:16]any other state that had done this, that had allowed unemployment benefits to go, to go to people who quit because they didn’t get a vaccine. Is– do you know of any other states who have done this?
Bryant [00:39:25] [00:39:25]I didn’t research that detail. It’s just probably more cursory, just from, you know, Florida, Alabama, North and South Carolina, just passing bills that say we’re not going to allow vaccine mandates. They probably just got– theirs are more broad, more like absolutely no vaccine mandates in our state. They didn’t– I didn’t read into anything that discussed unemployment.
Ferguson [00:39:42] So you don’t know of any other state that’s required to pay unemployment to them?
Bryant [00:39:45] I do not.
Ferguson [00:39:46] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:39:49] Representative Bentley, you’re recognized for a question. Push the button again.
Bentley [00:40:02] Thank you, Chairman. Thank you, Rep. Bryant, for bringing forth this bill. I think it’s very important. Are you aware of the attorney general’s letter that has gone out from at least 21 attorney generals across the nation already pushing back on these federal mandates and the CMS rules and those different things? Have you had a chance to look at that?
Bryant [00:40:18] I’ve seen the email that contained the letter, but not, not in depth.
Bentley [00:40:23] Yes, so we– I think we are, as far as litigation goes, I believe that we’re at a good point, would you not, if they’re already looking at pushing back at all of this as far as litigation goes to protect our hospitals?
Bryant [00:40:34] Thank you.
Bentley [00:40:35] And I believe also that federal law trumps state law, so I think that they would be in good shape. Thank you.
Ladyman [00:40:41] Representative Payton, you’re recognized.
Payton [00:40:44] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So Representative Ferguson brought up a concern about the federal government using Medicare and Medicaid dollars to try to force the vaccine mandate through those providers that depend on Medicare and Medicaid. I don’t find in your bill where they would be prohibited from having a vaccine mandate. Is there anything in your bill that would prohibit them from having a vaccine mandate? I mean, all I see is that it allows accommodations for, for something other than the vaccine to prove that you have immunity resistance to the, to the virus.
Bryant [00:41:27] Yes, representative, that is, that is an accurate statement. This is saying if a company chooses to, to have a mandate, therefore, they are implementing a company wide mandate, that they would also provide reasonable–
Payton [00:41:39] So they could still have a mandate to satisfy the federal rule?
Bryant [00:41:46] [Nods]
Payton [00:41:46] If I could have a follow up.
Ladyman [00:41:47] Yes, you’re recognized.
Payton [00:41:48] And earlier there was discussion about whether or not natural immunity would protect against future strains of the virus. Do we know at this point whether or not the vaccine will provide protection against future strains of the virus?
Bryant [00:42:05] I can’t answer that. I can, you know, I can answer that to say I read enough articles that say we don’t know yet. You know, with different state or different countries that have pushed for, you know, 90 plus percent immunity, that that immunity is waning, you know, down in the 50s, you know, Israel and the United Kingdom. And so they are obviously pushing for boosters.
Payton [00:42:25] Thank you. Thank you for bringing the bill. And thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladyman [00:42:30] All right, committee. I see no more questions from the committee. So thank you, Representative Bryant. We do have a number of people signed up to speak on the bill, for the bill, and against the bill. I’m going to call those that want to speak on the bill. So, Laura Shoo, if you would come forward. If you would, please introduce yourself for the record and who you represent.
Shoo [00:43:18] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Can you hear me? Thank you, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, I’m Laura Shoo, General Counsel for the Department of Health.
Ladyman [00:43:28] Pull your mic a little bit closer if you can.
Shoo [00:43:30] Certainly.
Gilmore [00:43:33] Matt Gilmore, Department Health.
Thompson [00:43:35] Charles Thompson, Department of Health.
Ladyman [00:43:38] All right, you may proceed.
Shoo [00:43:40] Thank you, Mr. Chair. We had a few points that we wanted to make today. I think Title 9 has been mentioned several times by the sponsor of the bill. It may have been misspoke. It may be a reference to Title 7, which prohibits employment discrimination. But also we just want to make sure that you all are aware with the, the VAERS event and the report about the 15,000 that have died, that is a source from unverified data, and those reports also don’t prove causality. So we just wanted to make sure that you all were aware of the counter points to those statements that were made. This bill was filed at 10:04 today. Our folks back at the Department of Health are still reading it, and our experts are still making determinations about how this will affect the department and the state as far as public health matters are concerned. We are looking at the fact that on Page 2 under Section 2, Line 22 refers to the negative antigen detection test for no more than one time per week. In our experts’ view, that will probably not be enough. That would probably need to be made more often. Sometimes the schools that are looking at testing are talking about possibly even three to four times per week. Also on Line 26, talking about the proof of the presence of the antibodies or T cell response for the virus on an annual basis, there is a concern about that. That assumption in the, in the bill would also need more vetting. The presence of the antibody, you know, you’re still going to get more information on reinfection in the future. There’s numerous studies that have shown that there are reinfections, so obviously the antibodies in the vaccine would be the strongest defense for our folks, but we would be concerned about that not being enough. So we are also looking at Page 3 and DFA establishing the rules regarding the method of distribution of the, the ARPA funds. You know, we’re unsure of how that will affect those funds and whether or not those could be distributed in that, in that manner. There’s a lot of uncertainties with the bill, and we are still in the process of review and we would appreciate a little more time to give more thoughtful consideration to the review of the bill.
Gilmore [00:46:17] Mr. Chair, if I may make a couple of comments. What Mrs. Shoo says is totally–
Ladyman [00:46:20] You’re recognized.
Gilmore [00:46:21] Thank you. It’s totally correct. Another question we had or comment was, are we talking about exposed individuals or are we talking about just systematic testing for the employer? So that’s something to consider as well. She mentioned the reinfection. We don’t know what that’s going to look like long term. I think the CDC has recently come out with the definition of what reinfection is. We’re still vetting that process, so. As the bill has been just given today, we’re just– we’re still trying to figure out some of the impact of it and we appreciate y’all’s consideration in our– letting us make our comments.
Ladyman [00:46:54] All right, we do have a few questions. Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized for a question.
Wardlaw [00:47:01] Thank you, Mr. Chair. There were some comments made by the sponsor of the bill a while ago about the effectiveness of the vaccine on the different variants and the future possibility of mutations. Mrs. Shoo, you did an OK job, but not very much in details about that when you started your opening statements. Can you go any deeper in that? And I know we probably should have Dr. Dillaha or someone else from the department. But I mean, to have a sponsor that is not a health care professional, not in health care, make those kind of comments, I’d like to hear from the science community on that subject to make sure that we’re making the educated decision here.
Shoo [00:47:46] Certainly, Rep. Wardlaw. As you all know, I am an attorney. I’m not a medical doctor. We do have several experts at the Department of Health that are extremely well qualified to speak to that, that manner. But we would strongly disagree with any assumptions about the vaccine at this point. We’re still learning a lot every day about how, how effective it is. And also, you know, as far as, you know, the science is concerned, it is FDA approved. It has gone through lengthy studies, and all of the studies are showing that it is effective and it is the strongest tool that we have in our, in our toolbox at this point to combat the disease.
Wardlaw [00:48:29] Thank you.
Gilmore [00:48:30] If I may, Rep. Wardlaw, I would echo what she says. We’ve, you know, we have reported daily and in the press conferences and on our dashboard daily about the efficacy of the vaccine. About 90 percent of hospitalizations are those that are unvaccinated. So I think that’s important to note. As we have said before, and our experts have said, the vaccines have been shown to be highly effective against all vaccines– I mean, against all variants. There’s still possibility for things to happen in the future, but I think the vaccine is the most and safest way to move forward at this point.
Wardlaw [00:49:07] Follow up, Mr. Chair?
Ladyman [00:49:08] Yes, you’re recognized.
Wardlaw [00:49:09] So let’s talk through the numbers and we just got a– I guess, I hate to say we just came out of a heavy, intense round, but it seems to look like we’re on the downward swing of that. On those numbers, when you look at ICU and you look at the ventilator numbers, how many of those people were on ventilators that were vaccinated versus unvaccinated? Is there numbers out there that show that or or not or tell us–
Gilmore [00:49:39] We, we have numbers– we didn’t, I don’t have those with me today, but we have seen that the majority of folks on ventilators are those that are unvaccinated, those that have had, you know, some comorbidities. Typically when they go on the ventilator, they’re on the ventilator for quite a while. So I would, I would agree that, you know, that the vaccine keeps you out of the hospital, keeps you off the ventilator and prevents long term illness.
Wardlaw [00:50:05] Mr. Chair, on that same line–
Ladyman [00:50:07] You can have one more.
Wardlaw [00:50:11] So I didn’t really ask anything to agree with, I wanted those numbers. Are those same numbers indication on the death rate as well? Do we have the numbers of deaths that were vaccinated versus the deaths that were unvaccinated?
Gilmore [00:50:24] On our dashboard, we have, we have that information as well, and we can provide that to the committee if need be. I don’t have it with me.
Wardlaw [00:50:30] If that’s on the dashboard, Mr. Chair. Can I ask a question of the chair?
Ladyman [00:50:34] Yes.
Wardlaw [00:50:35] Since we have quite a few people signed up to speak for and against, can we ask the health department to go gather those numbers and come up before voting and indicate those numbers to the committee?
Ladyman [00:50:44] Can you all do that? Get back to us quickly.
Wardlaw [00:50:47] Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladyman [00:50:49] Representative Gonzalez, you’re recognized.
Gonzales [00:50:52] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mrs. Shoo, you said that vaccine antibodies are stronger or– I don’t know exactly, remember how you put that– stronger or more effective than natural antibodies. Can you tell me where you got that information from?
Shoo [00:51:11] We have– our experts have the studies to back that up, and I’m happy to provide that to you. I just don’t have it right here with me. Certainly.
Ladyman [00:51:22] So you can get that for us, that information.
Shoo [00:51:26] Certainly.
Ladyman [00:51:28] Representative Payton, you’re recognized for a question.
Payton [00:51:32] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I’m over here to your left. Being on this committee for several years, I’m pretty sure I’ve picked up information along the way that, you know, with vaccines or with herd immunity type things, you know, you get in the 60, 70 percent range and it’s sufficient to stave off most infectious diseases. What is the target on COVID for, for, you know, do we want 100 percent of the population vaccinated or, or does it look like at 60, 70, 80 percent, we’re basically going to be able to stave off the virus. What is the target?
Gilmore [00:52:13] I think what we’ve said in the past is we want as many people to get vaccinated as possible. But I think, you know, you’ve heard the governor and Dr. Romero say, you know, 70, 80. You know, Arkansas, you know, with the flu shot, we don’t have what we’d like to have on that as well. But I think, you know, the flu shot is usually around 50 or 60 percent if we’re on a good day, a good year. But I think, you know, we would– the– I think the target for, speaking off– the best I can remember in the last conversations I’ve had would be around, you know, 70, 80 percent would be great, but I don’t know that we’re going to get that.
Payton [00:52:45] So if I could have a follow up, basically–.
Ladyman [00:52:49] Yeah, you’re recognized.
Payton [00:52:50] What I’m getting at is, you know, the vaccine hesitancy versus the refusal, I mean, we may be talking about 10 or 15 percent of employed individuals. Is that really going to affect us from reaching a herd immunity from vaccine or from natural immunity from having had the virus? I mean, can we not accommodate people that have a sincere concern about violating their body with a vaccine. I mean, I personally have recommended many people to get this vaccine, you know. But is the number of people that we’re trying to make accommodation for here really going to affect whether or not we can reach a reasonable goal?
Gilmore [00:53:38] I think– if I may, Representative Payton, I think that, you know, we have– in the past, exemptions have been given. And I think that’s an important thing to consider. I don’t know that we’ll ever reach the target goal of what the, you know, vaccine uptake should be, but I do think exemptions are important. That’s been done in the past in the state. But I do think that, you know, we need to strive to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
Payton [00:54:05] And I’d just like to clarify, we’re not talking about exemptions. We’re talking about accommodations. They still have to prove either that they’re not infected or that they have been infected and have natural antibodies. Yeah. So we’re not talking about exemptions. We’re talking about accommodations here.
Gilmore [00:54:22] I, I think that’s why, you know, we have stressed or I have in conversations I’ve had to look at incentives, to try to find ways, you know, provide education, that sort of thing. So I think when you do, when you do some kind of a mandate or something like that, I think the governor has said in the past it, it increases the hesitancy level. So I think, I think it’s important to try to bring people to it as much through education and just, you know, incentives or things like that.
Payton [00:54:47] I would agree. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladyman [00:54:50] All right. Seeing no other questions, thank you for your comments. OK. Mark White, if you would come forward. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
White [00:55:22] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mark White, deputy director and chief of staff of Department Human Services. We are– I am speaking on the bill today. [cough] Excuse me. Just want to make sure that the committee understands some of the possible consequences of the bill, depending on the events that may happen going forward. As has been alluded to, President Biden did direct CMS to adopt a vaccination mandate for certain health care facilities. At this point, we expect that that mandate would apply to certainly the Arkansas Health Center, which is the nursing home we run out near Haskell, as well as the Arkansas State Hospital. It may also apply to our five human development centers that we operate around the state. And so for those seven facilities, those include about 1,000 patients that we are caring for in those facilities. They also directly account for more than 3,000 jobs, so very critical facilities for us and for the state. The issue that we have or the, the, the concern we have is this bill sets out a number of exemptions, alternatives, accommodations for testing. Our expectation is when CMS releases their rule around the vaccination mandate, we expect they will have some provisions around exemptions, around accommodations, but we don’t know what those are yet. And so we don’t know if what’s in this bill is going to conflict with what will be in the CMS mandates. It may, it may not. At this point, we just don’t know. But if there is a conflict there, and we are in a position of that complying with state law puts us in violation of the federal mandate, then that could put us the risk of sanctions. Again, we don’t know what those sanctions will be since we don’t have the rule yet. But the one hammer that the feds always have around something like this is funding. And for those facilities, those facilities account for $11 million in federal funding per month, about $130 million per year that the state would have to make up if the feds chose to take that funding away as a result of us not complying with their rule. So again, I’m not making a prediction because, as I said, it all depends on what’s in that federal rule, but at this point, we just don’t know. And so I just want to make sure that we understood that that’s the position that we’re in and the conflict that we potentially may face. I’d be happy to answer any questions.
Ladyman [00:57:46] Representative Payton, you’re recognized for a question.
Payton [00:57:49] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So you’re saying we don’t know because CMS has not finalized their position.
White [00:57:58] Yes, sir.
Payton [00:57:59] Is it possible that CMS would be monitoring what happens with this legislation? And is it possible that what we do might alter or affect their ultimate, the ultimate outcome of what their rule is?
White [00:58:18] I mean, anything is possible. But I can’t speak to what CMS is monitoring or how much they would pay attention to that.
Payton [00:58:25] Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ferguson [00:58:29] Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized.
Gonzales [00:58:32] Thank you, Madam Chair. I understand that federal law overrides state law, but this is not exactly a federal law that’s passed. Does that same thing apply to federal rules, regulations, executive orders?
White [00:58:46] I would say, generally speaking, a federal rule will override state law, assuming that that rule is lawfully enacted. And I say generally, because it’s the law. We lawyers love to make lots of, you know, contingencies and differences, but generally speaking, a federal rule, a federal rule would override.
Gonzales [00:59:05] Thank you.
Ferguson [00:59:07] Representative Cloud, you’re recognized.
Cloud [00:59:11] Thank you, Madam Chairman. Mr. White, you referenced the seven facilities with approximately 1,000 patient residents. Do you know how many of those thousand are already vaccinated?
White [00:59:24] I don’t have that with me, but I can get that for you.
Cloud [00:59:26] Thank you.
Ferguson [00:59:46] I don’t see any further questions, so thank you.
White [00:59:49] Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ferguson [00:59:53] I have Jim Hudson next to speak on the bill. If you would recognize yourself and who you’re with.
Hudson [01:00:12] Thank you, Madam Chairman. Jim Hudson with the Arkansas Department of Commerce. A little bit, just echoing what you’ve already heard. It’s a bill that just dropped a few hours ago. We’re still trying to read it, still trying to understand it. What I want to do is just come up and just raise areas of inquiry for us that we’re already looking at and some of the initial concerns that we do have. But I do want to begin with just a point of agreement. Section 1A of the bill challenges the federal mandate and the necessity for the federal employer mandate, and I think we would agree with that. And the governor’s spoken about that. We don’t think that’s necessary. We think it is an overreach by the Biden administration that ultimately is not helpful. And so we, we hope that there will be measures successful to do something about that. That being said, I do not think that this bill is a helpful vehicle to do that from the employer community perspective. A couple points, you know, it does lay out a fairly specific process in a section that’s labeled exemption. So that’s what the section is called is exemption from a vaccine mandate for an opt out for testing, and it lays out very specific protocols for that. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a doctor. I cannot tell you if those are adequate protocols or not. But I do know that federal OSHA is in the process of writing an emergency rule that will address mandates for employers of 100 or more employees and the opt out provisions for testing. Have no idea how those two provisions will sync up. And I think what we risk is the potential for putting our employers in a place of choosing do they violate a state law or do they violate a federal law? And in the environment they’re in right now, coming out of a pandemic, trying to get as many Arkansans back to work as possible, the employers in this state have been through so much in the past year. Do we really want to put more headwind on them in terms of employing? So that’s, that’s one comment. The second comment would be about unemployment. It sounds like just from the conversation that’s occurred so far today that the bill may be a vehicle to get people unemployment benefits. And if that’s the case, let me just explain what current, the state of current law is. Currently under Arkansas’s unemployment law, if somebody were to resign because they did not want to be vaccinated because of a religious exemption reason or because of a medical reason or if they were fired by an employer because they had a religious exemption or had a medical exemption, then the Court of Appeals has already recognized that as a valid reason to provide unemployment benefits. They would just have to go through the claims process and demonstrate that. So I think current law is already adequate in terms of addressing the unemployment issue. Our concern would be the first time that we would be writing into unemployment law hardwired an exemption to give somebody unemployment benefits for violating employer policy. We would have a lot of concerns about doing that. So, Mr. Chairman, that’s all the remarks I can have. We’ll continue to review the bills and as we have additional thoughts and there’s additional opportunities, we’ll come back and present those.
Ladyman [01:03:44] All right, we do have a question. Representative Gonzalez, you’re recognized for a question.
Gonzales [01:03:49] I feel like Senator Hemmer today. Thank you, Mr. Chair. So many questions. So I know we heard earlier this week– you testified on this, too, about the religious exemptions– but I’d like to have people in here hear it again. How are those recognized when someone applies for a religious exemption, the company still fires them– they’re terminated for, for that– how did, how did y’all handle that when it gets to you, as far as looking at it and saying, yes, this is a deeply held religious belief by this person, they do deserve unemployment or, no, that’s not a true religious exemption, and we’re going to deny the claim?
Hudson [01:04:27] Sure, and if I may add even to that employment, you know, Title 7, which Mrs. Shoo remarked earlier, has separate statutory obligations under federal law to accommodate religious beliefs, as does the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. And so an employer, outside of the unemployment system, already has an obligation under existing law to accommodate those, and there is recourse for individuals to sue if that employer does not accommodate those. But to answer your specific question about unemployment, sir, you know, one, an employer cannot prevent somebody from filing unemployment. They can’t prevent somebody from filing a claim. And I think there’s some folklore out there that somehow an employer will be able to do that. They can’t do that. Individual loses their job, they get to file that claim, and the agency is obligated to review that claim and determine, are benefits compensable. And so they will look at the reasons that the employee describes– a former employee describes the reasons for the termination. The employer will tell his story or her story as well. They’ll kind of weigh the differences and they’ll make a determination. Now, from that initial determination, there are multiple opportunities for appeal. There’s an opportunity to kind of go for an adjudication level within the agency, and then there are two appellate levels within the Department of Workforce Services, and then there’s the Court of Appeals as well. So if somebody gets it wrong about a religious preference accommodation, there’s opportunity to correct that. And if you go look at case law from the Court of Appeals, they are very willing to correct that, and they have.
Ladyman [01:05:57] Do you have another question?
Gonzales [01:06:00] I don’t know that that directly answered the question that I had. How will you specifically handle the religious exemption? If someone claims a religious or– and let’s throw medical in there as well– they claim a religious or medical exemption, what are you going to look at to prove that, yes, this is a, a true exemption that, that they deserve to get? Are you going to dig into the religion? Are you going to dig into their medical history? What are you going to look at to say, yes, this person deserves unemployment, or no, they don’t.
Hudson [01:06:29] Well, I think different approach for medical versus religion. So for medical, you know, letter from the doctor. That’s going to be great evidence. You know, this person, for whatever reason, medical condition, they are unable to receive the vaccine and be healthy. You know, we’re not going to send them to an independent medical exam on that. That doctor statement’s going to stand on its own. In terms of the religious exemption, you know, lawyer, but I’m also a pastor, went to seminary, you know, Protestant by belief, evangelical Christian. You know, I don’t want anybody looking at my beliefs and kind of passing judgment on, is that reasonable or is that not reasonable? The question is, do you have the belief? Do you have the belief? And if you got the belief, that I think you’re going to make the case on it. We’ve already had experience with doing that. What I’m trying to say is this is not new. There are plenty of people of faith out there, good people of faith who’ve had conscience concerns about vaccines for a long time, and we’ve had to hear those issues and adjudicate those. Don’t need a new law for that. Already got it.
Ladyman [01:07:34] All right, committee, seeing no further questions, thank you for your comments.
Hudson [01:07:38] Appreciate you, Mr. Chairman.
Ladyman [01:07:40] OK, committee, we have a number of people signed up to speak for and against the bill. Some people have signed up for 1972 and some for 73, so I’ll try to sort those out as we go through here. So speaking for the bill, Chelsea Bittner, if you would come forward. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Bittner [01:08:20] Sure. My name is Chelsea Bittner and I represent myself.
Ladyman [01:08:26] You may go ahead and make your comments.
Bittner [01:08:27] So I had prepared a speech. I’m a certified pharmacy technician at Mercy in Rogers. I’ve spent my last three and a half years at Mercy in Rogers. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life in the pharmacy field. Tomorrow, I will be suspended because of my failure to receive a COVID 19 vaccination. The same vaccination, the same virus that I’m naturally immune to. I contracted COVID at work in a properly fitted mask two months ago. No one else in my house got sick. I was obviously quarantined from work for 12 days. And my, my, my employer refuses to acknowledge my natural immunity. If you’ll give me just a few minutes, I really want to paint a picture for y’all, your health care workers were put on the top of pedestals 18 months ago when this started. We risked our lives. We, we know COVID is deadly. We risked our lives day in and day out for our sick and dying, for strangers. We, we stared COVID in the face for 18 months and never blinked. We never shied away from COVID. We certainly didn’t withhold care because we were scared to catch COVID. We don’t withhold care for TB patients or C. diff patients or E. coli patients, any other communicable disease. We use the proper PPE. It protects us. And if we get it, we get it. It’s a risk that we take in the field in which we serve. Eighteen months ago, your health care people, your employees were made heroes. Everybody hailed us as heroes. Not all heroes wear capes and superheroes work here. You put us on the top of pedestals. You put us on a silver platter and said, this is the best of the best and this is the cream of the crop, we trust these people with our lives. Big businesses have then put a rope around our neck. I’m standing before you today, having had that pedestal kicked out from beneath me. I don’t know how I will feed my children in 30 days. I will not have an income after tomorrow. I’ve paid into the unemployment system to touch on a couple of things my entire working career. I’ve paid into that system. Why should I not reap its benefits when a decision about my unemployment or my employment with, with my company, with Mercy, is out of my hands? I filed for an exemption. I was denied less than 24 hours later. Having worked at the Rogers campus. I was denied by Mercy employees in St. Louis. I was denied by strangers who didn’t know their own heroes. We were hailed, we were hailed as heroes. People drew on our, our sidewalks with chalk. They donated energy drinks and Little Debbies. We were hailed as heroes and now that’s not good enough. It’s not enough. Us sacrificing our lives day in and day out for 18 months was not enough. The only thing that we are asking for with this bill is a little bit of protection to protect me from my overreaching employer. Mercy has shown their true colors to me. They could call me two weeks from now, I wouldn’t go back. I would continue with my suspension and I would stick to my convictions. I, I, I, I have tried everything, I have played every card in my deck. I’ve organized protests, I’ve organized rallies. I’ve driven three hours from home to speak to y’all, to beg y’all to protect us, the same people that elected you. I’m, I’m asking you to protect us. We can’t do it. I have no other options. My employer has deemed that I am expendable. And that’s it, that’s the end of my career. I can’t go to other hospitals because of their mandates. I can’t stay at Mercy because of my denied exemption. I have no other options. I don’t have an option to have antibodies testing done, which I would be more than willing. I would be more than willing to have my antibodies drawn once a month or be tested every two weeks. Mercy deemed that that was not appropriate, that I wasn’t enough for two COVID swabs a month to allow me to serve under their name. There have been a couple of things that have been brought up between or before me, speakers before myself. Ventilator use was one I can tell you that, per my Mercy email, the last one we received 62 patients in Mercy Rogers were ventilated. It does not distinguish between COVID 19 patients or the drug addict that OD’d and can’t breathe on their own. It makes no distinction. The moving goalpost of herd immunity, we spoke on that a second ago. First it was, you know, 60 or 70 percent. Now it’s 70 or 80 percent. It is a moving goalpost. When it doesn’t fit one bill, we move it. Well, it’s 10 percent less is good enough. Stick to it. Have some convictions and stick to it, that’s all we’re asking. We’re asking for you to protect us because there are fluid, fluid daily changes. Make no mistake, we are being terminated. We are not voluntarily resigning. We wouldn’t do that. We are being terminated with no choice. They decide who’s worth keeping and who’s worth not. I was not. My company won’t take its liability. You want me to get a vaccine that you– there’s no liability to. If it kills me, then there is nobody to take care of my 10-year-old child. Nobody. His father is not in the picture. That was absolutely a weight in my decision that if something happens to me, one in a million shot, better than that now, but I can’t leave my 10 year old. And now they’re taking my job because I had what was best for him in mind, now they’re taking my job. The three to four times a week testing is absolutely absurd. And when, when the Department of Health will stand beside me and have that swab shoved up their nose, vaccinated or not, I’ll comply. Being vaccinated against– being tested for a virus that I’ve had and have overcome because I’m a healthy 31 year old female, that’s, that’s still not enough. I can’t– my, my employer is not even giving me the opportunity to prove that I have antibodies. They are unwilling to recognize any kind of exemption with antibodies and if that doesn’t speak volumes, then it should. I’ve heard– what’s going on right now reminds me a lot of the Salem witch trials. Let’s test people who are immune to it to figure out if they have it or not. I mean, we burn witches at the stake and if they died, then they weren’t witches. I mean, at what point do we say, OK, let’s draw a line in the sand? This is the hard answer, not this moving goalpost of herd immunity or mass vaccination, vaccination. Pick a spot, pick a spot and stick in it. And I can tell you, I’m not vaccine hesitant. I’m fully vaccinated other than COVID, a virus that I have antibodies to. Quit changing the narrative and quit changing the goal, and you would get a lot more compliance. And, and please, and I mean this in, in all respect, stop telling us that we’re uneducated. Stop telling us that we are uneducated–
Ladyman [01:15:44] Audience, if you would, we don’t allow clapping. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but thank you. I want to thank you for your long trip to come here and tell us your situation. I appreciate you doing that. Can I ask, when you told your employer that you had natural immunity, what specifically was their answer? I mean, what did they say?
Bittner [01:16:09] There was no answer when I tested positive. Funny enough, my facility was not able to test me. Mercy Rogers was not able to test me. I had to go to Washington Regional, in which my test results were expedited because I was a health care worker. I fought them for multiple days about two weeks later to even get my results. I was never contacted, nor was I ever called, emailed,nothing from the Department of Health. I was never in any shape, form or fashion contact traced. I work on a COVID unit daily, if there is anybody that is going to get COVID and spread it, you met her right here. I was never contact traced. I turned my positive results over to my employer and they paid me for the, I think it was six days, not even that. And that was it. There, there has been absolutely no communication from our senior leadership to hourly employees at the very top of the totem pole, bottom of the totem pole. They have an iron fist and we comply with unquestioned compliance. And, and I’m not willing to give that. There was no discussion on antibodies at all.
Ladyman [01:17:18] All right, we do, we do have a couple of questions. Representative Boyd, you’re recognized for a question.
Boyd [01:17:24] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’d like to echo. I appreciate you coming today. You know, so I’m sensitive about asking questions, but I still think for us to vet this bill appropriately, we have to ask some questions.
Bittner [01:17:36] Absolutely.
Boyd [01:17:36] OK, so number one comes to mind, there are other jobs– you mentioned that, that you don’t have other opportunities. But say Walgreens, CVS, as an independent pharmacy owner, an independent pharmacy– what, what is keeping you to have to work in a hospital pharmacy? So could you just speak to that as to why you are locked in to that?
Bittner [01:17:59] If you, if retail pharmacy technicians were paid what hospital pharmacy technicians are, people wouldn’t gravitate towards hospital, they would stay in retail. It’s a lot easier work. It’s not easy, but it’s easier.
Boyd [01:18:13] One, one follow up, Mr. Chair.
Ladyman [01:18:14] Yes, you’re recognized.
Boyd [01:18:15] And then again, I think you’ve touched on this, but I want to ask specifically. So you’re in an environment where people are sick, their bodies are potentially compromised in a different way than you. You said you were 31, I think, and healthy, something like that. But these people are sick and more frail than you are. And you know, so you’re potentially, if you have COVID, you’re potentially out spreading it. I just, could you again speak to the, that aspect of things about how that– you know, how do you find that balance between your, your individual rights and the, the fact that you’re in a patient care setting?
Bittner [01:18:54] Sure, no. And I would be more than willing to test weekly or biweekly or even have blood drawn once a month for antibody testing. I just wasn’t given that option. When it comes to our, our patient safety versus ours, I think everybody in this room knows that health care workers have put our safety second to those of our patients for decades. It’s what we do. We certainly don’t get into health care for the pay and the schedule. I mean, we get into it so that we can serve. I don’t take lightly the risk that I run to my patients or the patients that I come in contact with in the hallway. For 18 months now, when, when all of this started, we had a huge PPE shortage and we were reusing the gowns specifically in pharmacy that we use in a sterile environment in which those drugs are then taken to our patients. We were reusing those for a week at a time. That’s an eight hour thing. We put them on at 7:30 in the morning and I throw it away before I leave at 4. It’s an eight hour, and I’m sure that’s not regulation. We– it’s a one and done for us. We wear one. We throw it away. We were being asked to reuse those for a week at a time. Our masks again in a sterile environment, I can’t come out of our IV room into the pharmacy and then come back into the IV room with the same mask on. I have to change my mask. It’s no longer sterile once it comes out of that buffer room. Those masks, we were asked to be taken off, stored in our room, a cloth mask put back on, come out into the pharmacy, and then we were asked to rewear those same masks for an entire shift. Those are your blue surgical masks. Those are supposed to be changed every four to eight hours or when they become wet. So a sneeze or cough, we were asked to rewear those for an entire shift because we couldn’t get them. And if we were not in the IV room and we were asked to wear our masks for a three day period in which we stored them in brown paper bags because we couldn’t get masks, we couldn’t get PPE, we couldn’t get all of that that we had been told for 18 months would protect us from our patients before this vaccine. We handle TB patients, HIV patients, Hep B patients. They’re on no different airborne or contact precaution than a Covid patient is, but it’s an entirely different set of rules and regulations handling one or the other. We, we don’t discriminate. We take care of everybody and–
Boyd [01:21:26] Thank you.
Ladyman [01:21:28] Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized.
Gonzales [01:21:31] Thank you, Mr. Chair. We’ve heard from several of the people who’ve already been down here testified that the federal government requires some type of exemption policy for certain, certain things. Were you provided any type of written exemption policy from Mercy?
Bittner [01:21:44] I was given the opportunity to fill out an exemption, in which I was, I was asked to provide a full vaccination history, which my employer already had. I was asked what other duties or activities in my life would essentially speak to me denying the COVID vaccination,. So I assume– I don’t have any. I just don’t, I want long term side effects. It doesn’t have anything to do with politics. I want long term side effects studies and those aren’t there. I assume that would be that, you know, you don’t eat pork for religious reasons or you don’t consume caffeine. I don’t. And then thirdly, it asked us to find or approach our own religious leaders– I myself don’t have one– and have them attest and put their neck on the line for us to attest to our faith. We were asked for a man to attest to the relationship that we have with Christ and to put his head on the chopping block because in that, that signature line, it says I give permission from myself to Mercy to call me and inquire about said employee.
Gonzales [01:22:58] OK, so they provided you with an application, but did they provide you with an actual policy of what their–.
Bittner [01:23:04] No.
Gonzales [01:23:05] Nothing, nothing of what their policy was?
Bittner [01:23:06] Moving target. Some I’ve talked to, I found a nurse that the exact same reasons that I did. I simply stated that I didn’t feel like I was being called to receive the vaccination at the time as I had natural immunity and that I was denying the opportunity to have their religious certification, attestation, filled out as I needed no mortal man to attest to my faith. She used the exact same argument. Hers was accepted. Mine was denied. There’s, there’s no parameters if that’s what you’re asking. No.
Gonzales [01:23:39] That’s what I was. Thank you.
Ladyman [01:23:41] Vice Chair Ferguson, you’re recognized.
Ferguson [01:23:43] Yeah, I am always curious for people who don’t take the vaccine, obviously, you’ve taken other vaccines, which have greater risk than the COVID in terms of complications or death or any of those things. And you didn’t take it even before you had what you’re calling natural immunity. Why, what’s your problem with taking the vaccine?
Bittner [01:24:03] The flu vaccine, I don’t have a problem with. It’s been around for decades. And again, I think I came at the flu shot from a place of ignorance. I trusted the heads that be and said, Sure, you’re saying it’s safe, it’s safe. After researching COVID and in the efficacy testing, dealing with the flu and the COVID vaccinations both, I’ll deny the flu vaccination from here on out. I don’t want long term–
Ferguson [01:24:31] I mean, but is there something specific someone’s told you about the COVID vaccine that would make you not take it?
Bittner [01:24:36] Nobody has to tell me anything. I see that daily. I see the check ins through our ER for a vaccination, a specific COVID vaccination reaction. I, I see it every day. I don’t, I don’t need anybody to tell me. I’m, I was on the COVID floor twice a day for the entire last week.
Ferguson [01:24:58] I mean, it’s, if you don’t have a reaction, you’re not building immunity. I don’t understand your hesitancy to get the vaccine.
Bittner [01:25:06] I have immunity.
Ferguson [01:25:07] Well, and that’s my other problem with this bill. There’s no standardization for antibody levels. I mean, the antibody test is, is– there’s, there’s no standardization for that at this point. So I mean–
Bittner [01:25:18] There’s no standardization because our employers are refusing to even acknowledge natural immunity.
Ferguson [01:25:22] No, I mean, the CDC has not established any level that, that says you’re immune. So I mean, I have a problem with the antibody test being a part of this exemption. But yeah, I’m just always curious why people won’t take the COVID vaccine if they take other vaccines when it’s had very limited problems compared to many other vaccines.
Bittner [01:25:41] I don’t think 15,368 deaths as of today is a little problem when only 1 percent of adverse reactions are actually reported to VAERS.
Ferguson [01:25:50] Out of millions of shots. Compared to other vaccines, that’s a drop in the bucket.
Bittner [01:25:54] I have a 10 year old that I’m not willing to take that risk with. I have a 10 year old that I’m not willing to take that risk with.
Ferguson [01:26:03] But you’re willing to asymptomatically spread COVID to all the patients in the hospital.
Bittner [01:26:07] I–
Ladyman [01:26:08] OK. All right. Seeing no further questions, thank you for your comments. Here to speak against the bill, Randy Zook. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Zook [01:26:40] Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas.
Ladyman [01:26:46] You’re recognized.
Zook [01:26:47] Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, members of the committee. This is a very fraught issue for all of us. This is a very challenging issue for business owners and managers. But I must tell you that these two bills and I’ll go ahead and speak on 1972 and 1973 at the same time, if that’s OK. These two bills are bad for business and the business climate in Arkansas, and I would urge you not to let our anger and the fact that we’re all, for the most part, upset with the Biden administration for this sweeping potential mandate that likely will be imposed across the economy unless some court shoots it down. But it’s, it’s the strength of the OSHA legislation, the strength of the EEOC legislation, all of those would have to be undermined in order to prevent the implementation of that 100 employees or more mandate across the U.S. economy. And that is bad. That’s, that’s– the whole thing is bad, we admit that. But at the same time, we think it’s even worse to intrude into the space of the freedom and the latitude of private business owners or owners with customers and capital at risk and employees at risk to prevent them from doing everything they possibly can if they choose to do so by imposing or putting the state in between them and their employees and their customers. Our state has long valued the freedom of private businesses to make the decisions they think best for the health and safety of their workplace and to protect customers and employees. This bill strips private businesses of that right. And I think paradoxically or oddly, the way the bill is structured and the way the federal rules will apply from OSHA and others, we’re only going to end up affecting small businesses in Arkansas if these bills were to pass, because the 100 plus employees businesses will all be covered if the federal rules are upheld. If not, then all this is moot. The inability to follow widely accepted health and safety guidance, first and foremost, puts employees’ and customers’ health and lives at risk, and it puts employers at risk for costly negligence actions by employees and customers. This body passed Act 559 in 2021, providing business protection against tort liability for COVID related claims. However, a business is only protected if it complies not only with state guidelines, but also federal guidelines issued by CDC and CMS. And ultimately under the current inspector of OSHA regulations, as well as other DOL regulations, HB 1972 puts Arkansas employers in the difficult position of following current and forthcoming federal workplace safety laws and rules or violating federal laws and subjecting them, subjecting themselves to costly fines and penalties. OSHA has already issued millions in fines for failure to comply with federal COVID guidance. Their authority extends up to a $14,000 fine for each violation. A small business could easily be bankrupted and put out of business by running up a tab with OSHA on those fines at that rate. We’re not just talking about big corporations, although that’s where all the attention seems to fall. Our biggest, finest, most successful companies are the ones catching all the flack in this conversation. We’re talking about small businesses for whom these kinds of fines and penalties could be crippling. The exemption process that allows for weekly testing or a yearly antibody test will not be consistent with federal guidelines, and it will not be adequate to help employers prevent the spread of the virus to workers and maybe customers. And that’s what this is all about. We are trying– we are tying the hands of Arkansas businesses that want to make their own decision in how best to keep their people safe. It’s interesting to me, maybe irritating or frustrating, we’re screaming bloody murder about a Biden administration mandate when what we’re attempting to do with these laws is to impose a mandate from the state government. Furthermore, opening unemployment benefits up to employees who knowingly violate a workplace policy sets a dangerous precedent, and it’s counter to basic tenets of labor law. And let me remind us, a couple of the earlier speakers, the one just prior to me and Representative Bryant left the impression that somehow employees have paid for their unemployment benefits. That is a total misunderstanding of how unemployment benefits work. These benefits are funded through a trust fund underwritten strictly and solely 100 percent by employer contributions. So to jeopardize that fund and put new unanticipated or new expansions of unemployment benefits through this, this law would threaten the solvency of that fund over a period of time. That’s a purely 100 percent employer paid cost. It’s not like Social Security, where employee pays half, employer pays half. The employer pays all of that cost. Let me remind us again that the national mandate only applies to 100 plus employee businesses. The rules for all of this will be many weeks. My guess is at least six to eight weeks being written by the Department of Labor. Then there will be challenges. We will not even see that law go into effect for several months through the court appeals process that will be inevitable. And let me just finally make a broad statement that I speak in defense of big businesses. Big large businesses are successful businesses. They grew from small businesses. We would be foolish and imprudent at the best to continue to hammer home and sort of threaten big businesses with new costs and new mandates that are not necessary. So we urge you to vote against the bill, to vote against 1973 and be happy to take any questions if there are any.
Ladyman [01:34:04] We do have a couple of questions. Representative Pilkington, you’re recognized for your question.
Pilkington [01:34:09] Thank you, chairman Ladyman. Thank you for your testimony, Mr. Zook. So I’m hearing a lot from the workers in my district. I haven’t heard from any of the businesses in my community that they are opposed to this legislation or for this legislation. They’ve been kind of mum on it. But because I’ve heard from so many workers, my concern is that if we don’t do something, you know, we’re going to have this mass exodus from the workforce, which is bad for business. And so has there been any sort of surveys or study about what we think the potential fallout will be of workers leaving the workforce like this young lady who’s– not young, she’s actually older than me so– who, who spoke, you know, I mean. Potentially in the workforce, I mean, do we know what kind of impact that will happen if nothing is done? I’m, I’m curious.
Zook [01:35:02] Look, I can give you an example of one large poultry processor that will remain unnamed, who, who since, who since identifying are making it plain that they were going to impose a mandate. Half the unvaccinated people in their company from that point have already gotten vaccinated. They’re going ahead and people are making judgments. People are saying, you know, I’ve really got a lot tied up in this job in this career. I’m not going to throw it over just because I, for whatever reason, don’t want to take the shot. And there are exemptions available for deeply held religious beliefs and or health reasons, somebody who’s immunocompromised, who’s, who’s not able with doctor’s orders to take the vaccine. But I’m very much in sympathy with Representative Ferguson. I’m baffled why people won’t take the vaccine. We, we in our small office had a situation where we had to come to terms with this, and I made it clear that we were going to be 100 percent vaccinated. And we are after some heart to heart conversations with a couple of employees, but we can’t jeopardize our members or guests who come to our office by having somebody who, unbeknownst to them, might be COVID contagious but asymptomatic. I’ve been through a COVID case. My wife’s been through a Covid case right after me. We’ve both been vaccinated. I’m lined up to get my booster shot next month eight months after I got the, the first one. We have to win this war, but we need to leave these decisions up to these companies. Some companies will choose to impose rigid requirements. Others will say, we’re going to do our best. And many of them are successfully incentivizing employees with money, time off, full coverage for any reaction. A handful of them have had reactions. Part of the unnamed poultry company is running, as you probably know, is running a $10,000 a week lottery for people who qualify and get– bring in their vaccine card. So there are all kinds of free will, free enterprise normal business practice opportunities to increase the vaccination rate. And we’re working hard to do that.
Pilkington [01:37:49] Follow up? Can you kind of explain to me, since you are representing the chamber and you have these conversations with these large big business employers? What is their hesitancy with recognizing immunity as equal to the vaccine? I mean, I really haven’t heard that articulated from big industry. Could you could, you kind of articulate why they’re not?
Zook [01:38:09] I’m speaking here as a– I barely got through biology in college. Let me put it that way, OK?
Pilkington [01:38:18] I was curious. I’ve never heard from them about it, so.
Zook [01:38:20] I think the problem is knowing how, how effective or what level of immunity you have, and it changes daily. Whatever immunity we have, either from a vaccine or from having recovered from a case of natural immunity, that atrophies over a period of time. And you never know when you cross that line and suddenly become a threat to your fellow employees or the people around you, family members. So I think that’s why the, the pushback on the measure of immunity. The vaccine’s stronger, may not last long– as long as we want to, but it beats the alternative.
Pilkington [01:39:01] Thank you, Mr. Zook.
Zook [01:39:02] Thank you.
Ferguson [01:39:03] Representative Boyd, you’re recognized.
Boyd [01:39:06] Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you, Mr. Zook, for being here today, and I appreciate your testimony. I do have a question, though it’s a statistic. Do you have any idea how many employers less than 100 employees have imposed the mandate on their employees in the state of Arkansas besides the state chamber? I’m assuming you are under– besides you.
Zook [01:39:28] No, I have no– I have no idea. I don’t know. Look, I have no idea where that information might be. I know there are a growing number, especially in the hospitality field, the restaurant field, where there’s a lot of customer facing contact and potential exposure. People, people want to feel safe when they go into a restaurant. People want to feel safe when they go into a hotel or go to a meeting or go to a tourist attraction or a football game. People want to feel like they’re fairly safe and employers, some employers want to make certain and do everything they possibly can. Others are struggling with it.
Boyd [01:40:14] One follow up, Madam Chair, or Mr. Chair.
Ladyman [01:40:16] Ah, yeah, committee, let me inject something here. You can have a follow up, but try to make your questions really more concise. You know, we got 45 minutes. I’m going to have to make a decision here pretty soon, whether to recess or come back tomorrow. So be as brief as you can to get your point across. You’re recognized, sir.
Boyd [01:40:37] Thank you. I respect that, Mr. Chair. So the question is then, specifically, it’s probably a yes or no. Is it interesting that the president comes on TV and says, Hey, I need employers to mandate and then large employers seem to be the one that, that gravitate to, you know, meeting that request? I mean, does it feel a little politicized from that standpoint? Thank you.
Zook [01:41:01] I would say everything about this entire pandemic, the last 18 months, everything about every conversation I have with most of the people I come in contact with is politicized. We are in a politically charged environment and I would urge you to err on the side of caution. Slow down, take a deep breath, lots of this stuff is going to work itself out over the next few months. OSHA is going to come out with something or they won’t. They may not, you know, they may find that it’s too difficult to write a set of rules. I’ve been a part of a group that has provided the Department of Labor and the Secretary of Labor personally a three page, three pages of single spaced questions about what do these rules need to cover. How do you count 100? Is it 100 in one place or 100 in the company? Is it– you know, they’re just are all kinds of really down in the weeds questions that have got to be worked through and thought through before they can even get close to writing an order. And that’s going to take some time. But every day, more and more people are getting vaccinated. Every day, more and more people are being released from a hospital recovering from it as a result of their vaccination and good care and those heroes that we all applaud in the health care system. But the health care systems have got to have the right to make that decision. If they make the wrong decision and run off half their employees, it’ll be on them. They’ll pay the price for it. Their institutions will. But they need to have that right to make or not make that decision.
Ladyman [01:42:50] Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized for a question.
Gonzales [01:42:54] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So you’re here testifying against this on the premise that we’re telling employers what they can and can’t do– strongly against this. I can only assume that you’re also against the federal mandate telling them what to do.
Zook [01:43:09] Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Gonzales [01:43:09] So what have you done to fight back against that? Or what are you willing to do in the future to fight back?
Zook [01:43:15] Well, as an organization, we’re involved in a court challenge. You know, there are lots of crosscurrents in this, in this environment in this conversation. But if you pass this law and OSHA puts out a rule, let me help you– employers are going to obey OSHA, because the specter of a $14,000 a day fine for each individual involved in that controversy is daunting for any business, even a big business. That’s a pretty fast clip that the meter is running at. OSHA has a very heavy hand and a very broad charter, but that’s federal and there’s nothing we can do about it at a state level. So we’ve got to fight it at the federal level, and we’re involved in that fight. Yes, we oppose the national, the federal national mandate.
Gonzales [01:44:10] Ok. One other thing, I ran the Covid tort liability for businesses in Arkansas, and I had not regretted that until just now when maybe you implied, and maybe I took this wrong– implied that that could possibly be giving businesses protection from lawsuit when they require this vaccine, because it is COVID related that if that employer or employee has some type of symptom from that vaccine, that, that we’re protecting that employer. Did I take that wrong or is that–.
Zook [01:44:45] I don’t think so. No, if I, if I hear you right, I think that’s right.
Gonzales [01:44:51] So we provided the employer tort protection if they require a vaccine of their employee, that employee has no recourse.
Zook [01:45:01] This– at the present time, this is, this is one of a myriad of employment, conditions of employment. The employer today has the right to set that expectation just like the employer–.
Gonzales [01:45:14] But if that employee is injured from that vaccine, there’s no recourse for the–.
Zook [01:45:19] That’s right.
Ladyman [01:45:23] Representative Bentley, you’re recognized for a question.
Bentley [01:45:32] Thank you, Chairman. Mr. Zook, just a couple of quick questions for you. Can a vaccinated individual transmit the virus to other employees or customers in the store if it was a retailer?
Zook [01:45:44] Again, I’m not an epidemiologist. I think, I think though, the numbers would tell you that that is mathematically and theoretically possible.
Bentley [01:45:53] It is possible, right? That’s– is that, would you say, is that why you are going to get your booster again because of your immunities are failing? That’s why you’re up for the booster?
Zook [01:46:00] I’m going to get a booster because I don’t want to die.
Bentley [01:46:03] OK, that’s fine. Do you not– and, and I appreciate that, but I– and what I’m trying to say is that I don’t see what we’re doing here, and this is a [illegible]. Did you see that the letter the attorney general put out against these OSHA rules? I think that we’re going to fight against those pretty, pretty severely. Would you not say so that we’re going to fight against these mandates and these OSHA rules pretty severely? Have you read the letter that the attorney general, including Leslie Rutledge, put out there?
Zook [01:46:28] I have not. No, I have not read it.
Bentley [01:46:29] So I think we have– I think if you read that letter, you’d see that’s pretty much a very strong stance against that. And I don’t think our, our employers at this point need to worry about that with a strong stance these attorney generals are taking. I think you might want to take a chance to read that, that letter that Leslie Rutledge is signing on to.
Zook [01:46:44] OSHA is a long established federal agency.
Bentley [01:46:46] I understand that, but I would, I would appreciate you reading that letter before we get concerned about mandates that they say the federal government has no rights at this point to even push what they’re doing.
Zook [01:46:57] Oh, I think, I think it’s a dangerous move to extend OSHA’s range to infectious disease.
Bentley [01:47:03] Correct.
Zook [01:47:04] I mean, OSHA up until now has dealt with workplace accidents, physical accidents, equipment failure, failure to guard electrical, kind of, you know, circuitry–.
Ladyman [01:47:15] All right. Representative Bentley, we need to move on.
Bentley [01:47:18] One quick, one quick follow up. I’m sorry.
Ladyman [01:47:19] Just one short follow up.
Bentley [01:47:21] Thank you. Do you know how many open positions– how many people– how many open positions we have for employment right now? How many, how many employees are we needing in the state of Arkansas right now?
Zook [01:47:31] Best guess that we’ve got is about 70,000.
Bentley [01:47:34] 70,000. I think the last thing we need to do is to lose some. Would you not agree with that?
Zook [01:47:39] I’m sorry.
Bentley [01:47:39] I think the last thing we need to do is have some more people unemployed. Would you not agree with that?
Zook [01:47:43] Well, I think at the end of the day, the number of people who might become unemployed because of this is pretty, pretty small and won’t affect that much. But the good news is there are a lot of employment opportunities available to nearly anybody that’s willing to show up.
Bentley [01:47:58] Thank you, sir.
Ladyman [01:48:01] All right. Seeing no further questions, thank you. Thank you for your comments.
Zook [01:48:05] Thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
Ladyman [01:48:06] OK, to speak for the bill, Robin Robinson. If you would, please come forward. And again, committee, I remind you, make your questions specific, and I would ask that your answers to any committee questions would be as specific as possible. Please, please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Robinson [01:48:32] Thank you for taking my question or my comments. I’m Robin Robinson, and I live in Alexander. I’m an ultrasonographer and a business owner.
Ladyman [01:48:41] OK, pull that mic a little closer and you’re, you’re recognized.
Robinson [01:48:45] Can you hear me?
Ladyman [01:48:46] Yeah, that’s better. Thank you.
Robinson [01:48:48] Well, I want to say a couple of things about this vaccine. This is a list of how long it took for hepatitis, polio, measles, Hep– Hep B, Hep A, HIV and all of them. The least amount of, amount of time a vaccine needed– this is from the CDC website or whatever– the least amount of years it took for it to be safe for me and my babies to take out of all these vaccines, the least was 12 years. 12 years to make sure it doesn’t hurt my babies. Six months for COVID 19, and now you’re telling me I’m going to be forced to take an experimental drug. This is not a regular vaccine. This is a different kind of vaccine. It’s never been used before in the history of man. And you are forcing us and you’re fixing to force my babies to take a vaccine. Y’all better have it on your consciences what you’re going to do to the human race in America. It is not right. And then to flippantly not recognize my immunities. My God given immunities are much stronger than any of these vaccines. And you are just so easily saying, well, take the vaccine. Well, if you have the vaccine, why are you afraid of me not taking the vaccine? If it works for you, why do I have to get forced to get it? That is the basic logical thing I’m talking to you about. I’m not wanting you not to get it. If you want to risk your life and your future immunities with this vaccine, this is America. You should be able to do that. But you should not be able to force me with an experimental drug. This is an atrocity, and it will be on all y’all’s consciouses for not standing up to this vaccine. I’m not against vaccines at all. I think they protect us from a lot of bad things. But this vaccine? You don’t even know what’s going to happen to my babies in the future. My baby, my baby’s ovaries, my baby’s anything, you don’t know. And for her to tell you that nobody’s really had adverse effects to this vaccine is a lie. People are dying from the vaccine. They’re getting blood clots. My son might have to take the vaccine to keep his job, and he probably will because he likes his job, bullied into this. He could get endocarditis for the rest of his life. It’s six percent higher chance for a boy, especially a boy 19 to 35 to get endocarditis. Now y’all can look at all these little things on the internet and try to figure out which is true. But I’m looking at reality and people dying or getting adverse effects to this unneeded vaccine for young people. They don’t die from this COVID. The other big, huge atrocity is y’all and the government have scared to death doctors to give us pretreatment. When you get COVID, you should go demand ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, FDA approved drugs for 50 years. They haven’t killed people like this vaccine has, and we survive COVID 99 percent of the time with no treatment. The, the little bit that– well, I don’t say a little bit– 200,000 or 500,00 people that have died of COVID is an atrocity. But it’s because you did not treat them early and that is the atrocity and you all have responsibilities. We voted for you to fight and protect us. This is not protecting us, and now they’re just making us take our eyes off the mark, which is this vaccine is not the answer. Herd immunity. All viruses leave. A new strand will always come. My body has immunity now. I had COVID. When I get the next strand, my body’s going to be stronger for it. This is historically scientific stuff. And I’m not a scientist, but I know that. And what I want you all to do is consciously know what you’re doing today, and this bill is just one of them. But you need to stand up and fight this administration for bullying us into stuff that they know is not good for us. And and I tell you in 10 years, you might be very sorry you got the vaccine or forced it on other people. And that and I really want you to understand that it is, it is criminal to not treat people early with COVID and then complaining that people are filling up the hospitals. At the very beginning, I was saying, Why aren’t you treating people. And you were– my doctor was scared to death to give me it– he gave me a 15 minute spiel out of what it can do to me. And then when you get cholesterol medicine, it’s a horrible medicine for your body. They don’t take, tell you 15 minutes of the side effects. It was. It was absurd. He was scared to death to give me hydroxychloroquine. A known, safe drug. And it keeps millions of people out of the hospital and probably from death. I feel like they should be lawsuits about that for negligence in our medical community, but it goes straight to our government from, from not letting our doctors do their job, scaring them. I mean, when you get the regular flu, you go away with a z pack at least. My brother’s 65, got COVID. A vet, had the vaccine, sounded horrible. You know what they said? Go home and take zinc. Oh my gosh. You all need to do something. It’s in y’all’s hands for sure right now.
Ladyman [01:54:24] Your doctor, I’m just curious, why was he afraid to give you that medicine?
Robinson [01:54:31] Because y’all said it could be a adverse effect me and come back on him. You’ve scared physicians, you’ve scared them. They– the mandates and doctors, they, they– they don’t offer it up to you. They want you to get this experimental vaccine that doesn’t work because a lot of people I know that’s gotten the vaccine, two shots, still get COVID. And you can’t– you can easily say, Oh, they get less symptoms. Some people I know that have never been vaccinated get less symptoms. So even that is a miscommunication and a disinformation of the vaccine and how beautifully powerful the six month approval is of the vaccine that has no right to be injected in my babies at all. It’s completely an atrocity what’s happening in the United States of America. I have to go to other countries to find out more truth than I get from my own government. It’s an atrocity.
Ladyman [01:55:26] All right. Seeing no questions, thank you for your comments.
Robinson [01:55:32] No, I’m glad. You really don’t have much to say about that.
Ladyman [01:55:38] OK, speaking against the bill, Jodiane Tritt. If you would come forward. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Tritt [01:55:59] Hi, I know the hour is late, so I will be quick. I’m Jodiane Tritt. I’m the executive vice president of the Arkansas Hospital Association.
Ladyman [01:56:06] You’re recognized.
Tritt [01:56:08] The quickest thing I’d like to say is not only do hospitals have to comply with OSHA standards that Mr. Zook talked about, but we also have to comply with Medicare conditions of participation. All state and federal law and Medicare conditions of participation are kind of hard to understand unless you’re in the hospital business. We have them for infectious disease. We have them for visitation. We have them for vaccine reporting, whether it’s flu, COVID, et cetera. And we have not seen the Medicare conditions of participation for COVID vaccine of our employees yet. Usually, when I come and speak to you, I can tell you what the Medicare condition of participation is, how we are expecting to comply with it, et cetera, and so forth. In this particular case, I’m coming to you kind of hat in hand saying, Hey, we don’t know what those will be yet, but we will have to comply. We’ll– most of our hospitals also have more than 100 employees. So the OSHA standards, and sometimes they’re issued as temporary emergency standards, we’ll– if they’re different from the Medicare conditions of participation, we’ll have to weigh and balance those. And if those are also different from federal law– or from state law, excuse me– then we’ll have to balance that with the preemption and supremacy clauses that pretty much dictate that federal law will control. So I will say at a minimum, patient safety and employee safety is absolutely paramount. I do applaud the health care workers here today who are in fact still health care heroes for being at the front lines and doing what they could to take care of our patients early on. Testimony today said we didn’t have appropriate tools. We didn’t have appropriate PPE. That could not be further– that is absolutely 100 percent true. We also didn’t have a vaccine. And so at every turn, our hospitals are doing everything they can to make sure our patients are as safe as possible as tools become available, as personal protective equipment becomes available, anything we can do to protect our patients and protect one another when we’re in the workplace, we want to do that. So we definitely are asking for the opportunity for hospitals to be able to evaluate their own hospitals and their own personnel and make the best decisions for what needs to happen for patient safety within their facilities. You all know some hospitals have declared that there is a mandate, most of whom have accommodations tied to those. But most hospitals in Arkansas do not yet have a COVID mandate. There are opportunities for employment if, if an employee does not want to stay at a hospital where a mandate is currently in place. With that, I’ll answer any questions that you might have.
Ferguson [01:58:58] Rep. Bentley, you’re recognized.
Bentley [01:59:00] Thank you. Thank you, Jodiane. Can you tell me, do you have any information on what the employee to patient transfer rate has been to Covid? Do you have any studies that have shown that employees have transmitted COVID to a patient? Do we have any information on that?
Tritt [01:59:13] I don’t have that scientific data. Either the Department of Health will or the Centers for Disease Control might have that. Anecdotally, Representative Bentley, we know that that transmission rate is small. And one of the reasons that transmission rate is small is because we do everything possible in doing everything that we know that becomes available that protects patients more than what we had available resources to do prior to, we take advantage of that to move the ball forward to make sure, no matter what we’re doing inside of our facilities, we keep patients and their protection paramount.
Bentley [01:59:50] One more quick follow up if that’s OK, and I’ll just make this one quick question. We know that we have a lack of nurses, a serious lack of nurses. Do you not see that this might create a complete public health disaster if we lose 10, 11 percent of our health care staff here? How can we afford to possibly do that?
Tritt [02:00:07] We are concerned about that, and I do believe that some hospitals have chosen not to force a mandate at this time for COVID vaccination, trying to make those accommodations and those considerations. We’re also always cognizant of what the federal government will pass down on us to say, Hey, we, we, the federal government are enforcing a mandate to you, here are the things that can allow you to accommodate folks who are unable to receive that mandate and unable to receive that vaccine. So we weigh all of those things all of the time. One of the things I hear from my members is that vaccinated workers quarantine less time. And so if a vaccinated worker quarantines less time, in some instances, that actually means you have more people working on the floor instead of out quarantined with the virus.
Ladyman [02:01:02] Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized for a question.
Gonzales [02:01:05] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I know that some hospitals already require some vaccines, and maybe that’s handed down from the federal government, maybe it’s not. Do most hospitals have an exemption policy for those vaccines, and how will the COVID exemption policy differ from those? Or do you know that?
Tritt [02:01:23] We don’t know that. You’re correct. Most hospitals do have exemption policies. Medical, philosophical, religious, absolutely. And when reasonable accommodations can be made, we make those reasonable accommodations. This one is a little different, because the COVID vaccine guidance, both from the OSHA standard for over 100 employees and from the Medicare conditions of participation, we really don’t know them yet. Representative Ferguson said earlier that we know something’s coming and the hammer that Medicare and Medicaid use against hospitals is that we won’t let you be reimbursed for caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients anymore, which then travels down also to commercial insurance companies who sometimes won’t contract with hospitals to take care of patients and pay for patient care if in fact you’re not enrolled as a Medicare provider. So there are lots of knock on effects. I will remind you we have 23 counties in Arkansas that don’t have a hospital at all. Access to care is supremely important. If you have clinical systems that have more than 100 employees in them, they’re also subject to losing access to care for Medicare and Medicaid patients. So all of those things come into play to where I’m always going to be an advocate for patients. I’m always going to be an advocate for hospitals. And it’s really important to weigh the ability for hospitals to evaluate their own resources and make their own decisions about what’s best for patients in their communities.
Ladyman [02:02:50] Did you have a follow up? Quick follow up.
Gonzales [02:02:54] Quick on my end, anyway. Are, are you required to have those vaccine– the, the exemption policies in place? And if you don’t have those– if you are required and you don’t have them, is your funding at risk there as well?
Tritt [02:03:07] I will absolutely check in to that. I know we have to have a medical exemption in place. Part of that is a disability act protection. I think Gina comes into place, which is an acronym that I’ll also get you the information about, but we do our very best to comply with all of those things from a federal perspective because we fully understand not everyone is medically able to receive a vaccine, whether it’s this one or many others.
Ladyman [02:03:37] Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized for a question.
Wardlaw [02:03:41] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Jodiane, what’s going to happen if this bill passes and federal rules come out and to receive Medicare and Medicaid, you got to have the vaccine, but yet we’re telling people from the state level that they don’t have to do this? What is that going to create in the hospital world, in the medical world across the scene?
Tritt [02:04:02] You’ll certainly create a communications problem. We’ve seen this happen before. Many times we set up an expectation that the state has the ability to direct certain things to happen. And then when the federal government doesn’t allow that to happen, then we run into issues to where folks have a hard time knowing which standard to follow. In the hospital world, what will happen is because of the United States Constitution, Article 6, Section 2, the supremacy clause, the federal law will preempt what the state law is, as will the federal regulation. So when those Medicare conditions of participation come in, if Medicare says Thou shalt do x, thou shalt make sure that your employees are mandated, if we don’t do it, we’re in trouble, right? We could still go to federal court and we could be in trouble. What they use as an incentive for us to do what we’re supposed to do, according to them, is they’ll take away our money. If hospitals close in Arkansas, then our ability to take care of the 7,073 inpatients that we had at midnight tonight substantially is diminished. Access to care is diminished. People who are employed in the health care facilities and in the health care world is diminished. And people suffer. We already have less than 40 hospitals in Arkansas that deliver babies now. So as access becomes more and more constrained, we run into opportunities where we have to really balance, if you will, our ability to care for Arkansans.
Wardlaw [02:05:45] So, Mr. Chair, follow up.
Ladyman [02:05:48] Quick follow up.
Wardlaw [02:05:49] So what you’re saying is, is that the state legislature is going to tell these people one thing, the federal government– you know, we sit around here and all day we’ve heard that we don’t have any rules yet. We don’t have rules yet. We have an executive order that is there. It is valid. It says that if you take Medicare and Medicaid funding, you will be vaccinated. Is that– I don’t want you say true, because that’s not my question. But why should we have to wait on rules when we know the executive order? And by the way, I don’t agree with one iota ounce of this White House’s decisions. But I also understand that I have to protect my district and their jobs, and we know that’s going to happen. We know the rules are coming. So what do we do to protect Aransans if this bill passes and knowing what they have to follow because they’re going to follow the federal guidelines if I hear you correctly?
Tritt [02:06:47] Yes, sir, we’re forced to follow the federal guidelines. You know, a lot of things have happened since March 11 of 2020, right? We’ve had to follow many different administrative guidelines. They’ve changed over time. Some of them have competed with one another. We’ve had to do our best to pick which thing to follow, and paramount to all of those things has been question number one: What’s the safest thing to do for the patient? What’s the thing that we have the most access to as far as resources go to protect that patient? How can we protect our health care workers in our health care workforce and keep them going? And then how can we can protect our community at large? All of those things come into play. The feds don’t always get it right. I can tell you right now we’re fully expecting the OSHA guidelines to be different from the Medicare conditions of participation at the federal level. This state law, if it passes, just adds a layer of complexity on something that already will be hard to implement.
Ladyman [02:07:48] All right, seeing no further questions, thank you for your comments. Next person to speak for the bill, Ronnie Swartz. If you would come forward. That’s OK. James Leach, did you want to speak on the other bill as well? OK, come forward, please. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Leach [02:08:40] My name is James Leach. I’m here to represent myself, but mainly my wife. My wife works for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, who has just recently sent an email that they are now mandating– they’re phasing in the vaccine mandate. It’ll be effective October 1st. Just a couple of thoughts that I have about that. My wife and I are not anti-vaxxers. I don’t have a problem with vaccines if you want to go get it, if that’s what you want to do. To me, this is much more of a personal choice issue. I do not feel that a company has the right to mandate my wife to take this vaccine that has only been in existence for less than two years, as the lady before me said. And we don’t know what kind of long term effects this thing will have because we haven’t had the time or the opportunity to see what this is going to do. I’ve heard a lot of people come up here, and there’s been a lot of representation from the Health Department, from Commerce and from everyone else about the big companies. Who’s here representing the individuals? Who’s here representing the nurse who got let go and who, who has to now go out and find a job. And let’s hope she does, and she doesn’t end up flipping burgers. Who’s, who’s here to represent my wife and my family? We stand a chance while you guys are all waiting, and Mr. Zook wants us to wait until everything settles out and see what happens. We don’t have that kind of time, guys. We’re talking– this could be in three months, my wife can be faced with losing her job. We could be faced with losing half of the income in my family. We could be faced with losing her contributions to our retirement. I don’t have time for this crap to settle out. I just don’t. I wish we all did. Sorry, I’ve got notes here, and this is my wife’s phone, so. The longer we wait and the longer you guys wait, and I understand the position you’re in having to balance what the federal government’s going to do versus what we’re asking you to do, and I get that. It’s a hard position. That’s what you ran for is to take on the– to take these positions and to make these decisions. I’m asking you to do that, but I’m asking you to do that and take into account what’s going to happen to individuals. Like I said, all I’ve heard people talking about is what’s going to happen to the big corporations. Wal-Mart’s going to survive no matter what. Tyson’s going to survive no matter what. Mercy Hospital, Arkansas Baptist, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. They’re going to survive no matter what. I don’t know that my wife and I will. I don’t know. We don’t know what’s coming in the next three or four months. I’m going to answer a question that hasn’t been asked already of me. Why don’t I get a vaccine? What’s my problem with it? Well, first of all, it’s not a vaccine. A vaccine is in my mind and my understanding, a vaccine is supposed to give you immunity. We’re seeing the fact that now that doesn’t happen. If you get this shot, eventually, you’re either going to have to get a booster, but you can still catch– you still get the disease. You can still spread the disease, the disease. It doesn’t prevent you from spreading it. Well, then why am I going to get an experimental drug put in my body if you can’t tell me that it’s going to keep me safe because, just because Big Pharma suddenly is the hero and wants me to take this shot. The last thing I would say is this, I always also hear people talk about following the science. At one point in time, science thought the best way to treat a chronic disease was to bleed the patient to get rid of the quote unquote bad blood. When I was in junior high, I watched a film made by a bunch of scientists that were telling me that in 30 years, the Earth would be a slab of ice and we would all be dead. That didn’t happen, either. Science also has told us that in the 50s and 60s it was legitimate to give pregnant women thalidomide for their pregnancies, for their nausea. And if you don’t know how that went, look up on Google children of thalidomide. Guys, I don’t have a problem with science. The problem is how that science is being interpreted by different people that we are all being asked to listen to. Thank you. That’s it.
Ladyman [02:13:13] We do have a question. Representative Miller, you’re recognized.
Miller [02:13:18] It’s not a question, Mr. Chair. Just a motion, if you’d hear it.
Ladyman [02:13:23] OK, I’ll take it in just a moment. Sir, thank you for your comments.
Leach [02:13:27] Thank you.
Ladyman [02:13:28] All right. We have no one else signed up to speak for or against this bill. We do have some folks here that are signed up for the next bill. So, Representative Bryant, you’re recognized to close for your bill.
Bryant [02:13:56] Thank you, Mr. Chair. That was great testimony on both sides. I’ve, I wrote down several things that I could address. In an effort to save time, I won’t address them all because that may be a moot point. And what I would like to say is there is, there’s a lot of discussion on a few changes that would make this bill better. The co-chair had said and a few other members have said I would agree to amend those on the Senate side, but I would like to, to close from my bill and ask for a good vote today.
Ladyman [02:14:30] All right. What’s the will of the committee? Representative Miller, I’m sorry, you are recognized for a motion. Have a motion do pass. Is there a second? So don’t need a second, but I got one anyway. So the motion on the floor is do pass. Any discussion on the motion and let me tell you, committee, we have to adjourn in about five to seven minutes. So is there any discussion on this motion? Seeing none. No discussion. All right. Motion on the floor is to pass HB 1972. All in favor signify by saying aye. All opposed nay. So the ayes have it. Congratulations, Representative, your bill is passed. Committee, we’re going to have to adjourn. How many? Hold your hands up again. I got to have three. I see two. I see two. OK, I see three. All right, call the roll.
[02:16:00] Representative Wardlaw, no. Representative Eubanks, aye. Representative McGee. Representative Dotson, yes. Representative Miller, yes. Representative Payton. Representative Bentley, yes. Representative Gray, no. Representative Gonzalez, yes. Representative Boyd, yes. Representative Allen. Representative Allen. Representative Coleman. Representative Coleman. Representative Pilkington. Representative Wing. Representative Wing. Representative Penzo, yes. Representative Perry. Representative Davis, yes. Representative Cloud. Vice-Chair Ferguson. Congratulations, Rep. Bryant, your bill is passed. Audience, please, please follow our rules. That’s not allowed. Committee, thank you for your comments. We’re going to adjourn now. We will meet tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. in this room to hear the second bill. So we will meet tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock. We are adjourned.