October 4, 2021 (a.m.)
Griffin [00:00:48] The Senate will come to order. Madam Secretary, please call the roll.
Cornwell [00:00:50] [all present]
Griffin [00:01:35] Everyone please stand, including those in the gallery. Senator Flippo will lead us in a word of prayer.
Flippo [00:01:42] Members, please rise. Join me in prayer. Dear Heavenly Father, we come to you today with humble and grateful hearts, humble for the task before us and grateful for the opportunity to serve your people. We ask that you be with us today as we take on the work that you have tasked us with. And let us not forget the things that we do, we do for you and for your glory and for your honor. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
[00:02:24] [Pledge of Allegiance]
Griffin [00:02:24] Before we get started, I was informed by Senator Ballinger that we’re going to pass over SB 731 today. SB 731 we’re going to pass over. We got two amendments and one bill on the calendar. Any items at the desk before we move into the business agenda? Madam Secretary.
Cornwell [00:02:46] No, sir.
Griffin [00:02:47] OK. Senator Garner is not here. OK. We’re going to skip Senator Garner and we’re going to go to Senator Hammer.
Cornwell [00:03:05] Amendment 3 to Senate Bill 739.
Griffin [00:03:16] Senator Hammer on SB 739 amendments, amendment.
Hammer [00:03:23] Thank you, Mr. President. My bill, my amendment. I’d also like to ask that amendment 1 and 2 be withdrawn from further consideration. And then I have a motion after this action is taken, Mr. Chair.
Griffin [00:03:36] Amendments 1 and 2 or withdrawn without objection, which brings us now to Amendment 3. His bill, his amendment. Any questions? Comment? All those in favor say I. Opposed. The ayes have it. The amendment is adopted. Emergency clause– it has an emergency clause. Send it to engrossing. You’re recognized for the motion, which I can anticipate what it is.
Hammer [00:04:02] Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to make a motion that when the bill comes back from engrossing it be added to today’s calendar.
Griffin [00:04:08] You heard the motion. Any questions? Sen. Dismang has a question.
Dismang [00:04:14] I mean I realize that we just passed over, you know, discussion on the amendments, but I want to make sure that I understood– he left the well.
Hammer [00:04:27] I’m sorry.
Dismang [00:04:27] But I do want to make sure that I understand the amendments so I’ve been trying to comb through those this morning. And I mean, again, I realize that we just kind of passed over the part where we can discuss the amendment. But if you can, can I get just an over line or, you know, a overview of what it is we’re talking about changing so that we know what to anticipate when this comes back from engrossing, especially if you’re asking us to vote on it today.
Hammer [00:04:49] Yes, sir. Be glad to. Maybe, before I answer that question– Mr. President, may a direct question to you?
Griffin [00:04:55] Sure.
Hammer [00:04:56] I think– did I make the motion to suspend the rules for the purpose of adding it to the calendar today?
Griffin [00:05:01] You didn’t use those words, but yes. And I was going to– I was going to restate it before the vote, which, by the way, requires 24 votes.
Hammer [00:05:09] OK. All right. Thank you. To the question, Senator Dismang, some of the points that it amends in the language is that it– let me get to my cheat sheet here. It changed the term of ‘treatment’ to ‘vaccination or immunization.’ Just a point of clarification to make sure that we know exactly what we’re talking about it. The two big key components is it takes out the language about the unemployment because if the bill passes, they’d be awarded or afforded the same opportunities as anybody else that would be applying for unemployment. And based on what Department Commerce said, there’s no reason to have that language in there because it would go through the normal processes. It would also substitute and I’ll read specifically, “proof of immunity for the virus that causes the COVID 19 or its variants, including, without limitation, the presence of antibodies, T cells response or proof of positive COVID 19 or its variants test on the basis of two times per year not to exceed once every six months.” So it would allow– or it clarified the ability to use a test that would determine if you have the antibodies built up in your system not to exceed greater than six months or twice a year. And then it clarified the cost of the testing would be covered through any state or federal funding made available, including without limitation, the COVID 19 relief funds distributed from the Rescue Act. If the employee’s health benefit plan does not cover the cost of testing, and in the event that the cost of testing under the subdivision is not available, the cost of testing shall be covered by the employee. So the unemployment issue was addressed. The cost of the test was addressed. And also clarification of the antibody tests that could be used. Those are the three big components of the, of the bill.
Dismang [00:07:04] Question. And so there is a part here that says that on Page 2 , we delete lines 25 through 27. If I’m reading that right, that’s the portion that if an employee has been exposed, that you can have testing that’s more regular than once a week. Am I misunderstanding? Are we striking that language out? And if you can, walk me through why we would strike that out or what we’re doing there.
Hammer [00:07:27] Sure. The, the explanation is that if a person has been exposed to somebody, they’re going to be quarantined and removed from the job site anyway if they’ve been exposed to it.
Dismang [00:07:43] OK, thank you.
Hammer [00:07:44] Thank you.
Griffin [00:07:46] Did you get all your questions answered, Senator Dismang? Senator Tucker. You’re good? Senator Tucker has a question.
Tucker [00:07:54] Thank you. Thank you, Governor. Senator, so if we’re– this is on the motion. If we add this to today’s calendar, does that mean we’re going to vote on it essentially right now? Or is there another time later this afternoon when we’re coming back? I’m just curious about the logistics of that.
Hammer [00:08:08] The motion would be– go ahead.
Griffin [00:08:10] It’s going to go at the bottom of the calendar, which will be–
Tucker [00:08:12] So we’ll hear, we’ll hear SB 732 and then we’ll hear the engrossed version of 739? Is that what you are saying? Okay, thank you.
Griffin [00:08:22] Any other questions? Any other questions about the– Senator Hill has a question. This is on the motion to suspend the rules.
Hill [00:08:31] My question on this, senator, is the, the House had to approve. I asked back whenever we were doing this study about putting the employee paying in this. Why did it take the House having to do it instead of us doing it as a body?
Hammer [00:08:44] I’m sorry, one more time. Why did it take what–
Hill [00:08:46] On this, yes, on the, on the employee paying the portion of it. We discussed that several times and it was put in and out of it. Why did it take the House to decide to put that in there for y’all to decide to agree on that?
Hammer [00:08:56] Because we’re trying to get to a working arrangement and it’s just the dialogue that occurred between the House and us. And also when I presented in the Senate committee, that’s the result of what came out of it that I think would be a pathway forward.
Hill [00:09:10] Thank you. I think it’d been a lot easier for you to put that in whenever I wanted it three weeks ago. Thank you, sir.
Hammer [00:09:14] My apologies to you, sir.
Griffin [00:09:16] Any other questions?
Hammer [00:09:19] Mr. Chair, may I say something?
Griffin [00:09:20] Yeah.
Hammer [00:09:21] In response to the senator’s question, it was, it was actually, I think, originally in there, but as a result of some input from an entity, they wanted it clarified clear and this language makes it clear. But yes, your ideas was the original idea. It was suggested to me that we– and it wasn’t even from the House side. It came from somebody else that we put in there to clarify very clearly that where the buck stops. Because we had it in a certain arrangement, and so this brought clarity to it. So I’ll give you credit for that publicly.
Griffin [00:09:56] Senator Hendren, then Senator Stubblefield. Senator Hendren.
Hendren [00:10:00] Thanks, Mr. President. So we’re going to have an engrossed copy before we vote on this, correct? It’ll go to engrossing, come back so we’ll be able to see the bill engrossed instead of having to try to sort through these amendments?
Hammer [00:10:11] It’ll come back fully engrossed with the amendments in it, and then my intent would be just to stand here and walk through it right down the line of the bill to answer any questions that may be, may be asked if, if it gets allowed to be added to the calendar today.
Hendren [00:10:25] Thanks.
Hammer [00:10:26] Thank you.
Griffin [00:10:27] Sen. Stubblefield.
Stubblefield [00:10:30] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Senator Hammer, is there anyone who has a religious or medical objection to taking the vaccine or just doesn’t want to take the vaccine– is there anyone that this bill will not help?
Hammer [00:10:48] In my opinion, it will help those who maybe have had their religious or medical exemptions denied. This is a safeguard.
Stubblefield [00:11:01] So this will help– this will help all of those who have had their objections denied.
Hammer [00:11:06] Yes, sir.
Stubblefield [00:11:07] OK. Allright.
Griffin [00:11:09] Any other questions? Sen. Chesterfield, then Sen. Teague.
Chesterfield [00:11:14] Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you, Sen. Hammer, for taking my question. As we look at unemployment benefits, who pays those? Is it from the state and federal level or only the state?
Hammer [00:11:27] Well, I believe it will be– I’ll clarify that before I come back to present, but I believe they would be treated just like any other individual that would file for unemployment so whether it be the state or the feds. I will clarify that before I get back up in the well–
Chesterfield [00:11:41] Thank you so much.
Hammer [00:11:42] –and address that question.
Griffin [00:11:44] Senator Teague.
Teague [00:11:51] Good morning, Senator.
Hammer [00:11:51] Good morning.
Teague [00:11:52] Do you know how many people in Arkansas have lost their– have been denied for religious or whose religious objection or medical objections have been denied? I mean, is that a huge number? Are there three people? What’s the number?
Hammer [00:12:10] I do not have a way to determine the number. I could tell you based on emails and– you know, that I’ve received directly from people, not cookie cutter emails– people that are, that are about to lose their job that have expressed that but have been turned down. And so there is, there’s no other option for them. And that’s what this would do is create that option. Interesting enough, one was from a medical doctor of 20 plus years that’s been treating COVID patients who’s not going to take the vaccine and his entity is going to fire him if he doesn’t take the vaccine. So to that kind of individual, of which I cannot substantiate a number, it would be beneficial.
Teague [00:12:51] Thank you.
Hammer [00:12:51] Thank you.
Griffin [00:12:52] Any other questions? Senator Chesterfield, then Senator Elliott.
Chesterfield [00:12:55] I do have one more. I apologize. It takes me a minute to get wound up. Is right to work and at will a part of the constitution or is it in state statute?
Hammer [00:13:08] Well, I believe it’s in state statute. I’ll clarify that. But we have specifically written into this that this does not threaten our right to work status as a state.
Chesterfield [00:13:18] So it means the law as it currently is? Or if it’s a part of the Constitution, are you trying to amend the Constitution? This would help me understand better because for a long time, this state has been a right to work state–
Hammer [00:13:35] Yes, ma’am.
Chesterfield [00:13:35] –and its employees have been at will employees. And so it would be helpful to know, are you amending statutes or are you amending what is in the Constitution?
Hammer [00:13:47] I believe we are amending statute, not what’s in the Constitution. That’s why we, for clarity purposes and to address that issue, we have it written into the bill that it does not threaten our status as a right to work state.
Chesterfield [00:13:58] Thank you.
Hammer [00:13:59] Thank you.
Griffin [00:14:00] Senator Elliott.
Elliott [00:14:03] Governor, this is this is for you. I was wondering, rather than making a motion, if when we come back with this bill engrossed, if you would entertain just giving us sort of 5,10 minute recess so we can just read the engrossed bill. That might expedite things.
Griffin [00:14:20] And thank you for that, senator. And the Clerk has said that she will put a copy of the engrossed bill on everybody’s desk, and we’ll make sure– these issues are too important to rush through. And so be happy to do that. Let’s– anything else on that?
Elliott [00:14:38] That’s it. No.
Griffin [00:14:40] Any other questions on this motion? Now remember my hearing’s not the best and this, this requires 24– I’m going to let you finish. This requires 24 votes. So if it’s even, you lost. OK, so I’m just preparing you for that. Go ahead.
Hammer [00:14:59] Thank you, Mr. President, for predetermination. My, my intent is just to make sure that it keeps moving. But my intent is not for you to feel like something’s been rushed past you. So whatever the body wills, understand this, even though I preached to an empty chamber yesterday, I will not carry any hard feelings– at 8:00 yesterday morning. Thanks, Sen. Hickey. I want you to have a comfort level about this bill. And if the body determines not– but ever since we started, the theme has been Let’s get out of here. And, and if you feel that you need that all the time you need in order to absorb it, get your questions answered, I’ll stay in the chamber to answer your questions. Before I get back down in this podium, you do whatever your comfort level is. I’ll live with and be fine with it so I can have this bill out of here with you having an opportunity to have full discussion. I’m probably speaking against my own motion, but I’d rather do that and you feel good that the process has been pure and that it has been transparent than for, for a cloud to be over this bill. And with that, I’d appreciate a good vote.
Griffin [00:16:06] You’re not speaking against your own motion because it’s not a debatable motion. OK, so this is a motion to suspend the rules to put Senator Hammer’s amended bill at the bottom of the calendar. OK? All those in favor say aye. Opposed. I don’t know what 24 audible votes looks like, but it sounds like the motion carried. And it’ll be put at the bottom of the calendar. OK. Senator Garner.
Cornwell [00:16:45] Amendment 1 to Senate bill 730.
Garner [00:16:50] This just adds the emergency clause. I’d ask for a good vote.
Griffin [00:16:52] Adding an emergency clause. Any questions? All those in favor say aye. Opposed. The no’s have it. The amendment is not adopted. OK, you got five hands? OK, got it. Madam Secretary, please call the roll.
Cornwell [00:17:13] Ballinger, yes. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe, no. Chesterfield, no. Caldwell, yes. Clark, yes. Davis, yes. Dismang, no. Eads, no. Elliott, no. English, English. Flippo, yes. Flowers, Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer, yes. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, no. Hill, yes. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, yes. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, no. Tucker, no. Wallace, yes.
Griffin [00:18:34] Anyone wish to vote or change their vote? Senator English is aye. Anyone else? Cast up the ballot. 23 yeas, 11 nays, the amendment is adopted. Send to engrossing.
Garner [00:18:48] A motion at the proper time.
Griffin [00:18:51] The senator’s recognized for a motion.
Garner [00:18:52] Motion to suspend the rules to add Senate Bill 730 to the end of the agenda after it’s engrossed.
Griffin [00:18:59] Okay, any questions on the motion to suspend the rules? OK. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Ayes have it. The rules are suspended. It will be put at the bottom of the calendar. Yes, so we’re passing– just to clarify where we are. So we’re going to pass over Senator Bollinger’s SB 731 per his request. All the amendments are done. Well, we still have Senator Johnson. So what we’ll do is we’ll go ahead and handle Senator Johnson’s bill and then we’ll take a recess if that works for y’all. Will we have time to get everybody text? Okay. So we’ll just go to Senator Johnson’s while the other bills are in engrossing.
Cornwell [00:19:58] Senate bill 732 by Senator Blake Johnson to prohibit coercion of persons to receive the vaccine or immunization for COVID 19 and declare an emergency.
Griffin [00:20:10] Senator Johnson.
B Johnson [00:20:11] Members, substantively, this bill is the same as it was before with two amendments. The amendments get rid of the possible positive incentives and allows the possible positive incentives. And also includes any other federal funds that may become available to pay for this. So.
Griffin [00:20:34] Any questions? Senator Hendren.
Hendren [00:20:38] Thank you, Mr. President. So I did– I do see that you addressed the issue that we’ve been told these funds under the rescue plan are not available for unemployment benefits, correct? And you’ve addressed that by saying other federal funds?
B Johnson [00:20:51] Those rescue funds, I think, run through 2023 and they’ll be– they may be possibilities to use those funds at a later date, but any other funds that we can use federally also.
Hendren [00:21:02] So and what if there are no federal funds that are authorized for this use? What do you tell the people who left their employment thinking they were going to get them or does the state cover them?
B Johnson [00:21:14] Well, it says what it says. It’s, it’s– if it’s not available, it’s not available. There’s all kinds of bills that’s filed down here that’s never appropriated funds. There’s things created– I mean, it still gives those exemptions for the people.
Hendren [00:21:32] But to be clear, there is no mechanism where anybody will receive any funds from the state budget under your bill? This– the only funds that they– would be utilized are funds that the federal government chooses to say are authorized for this purpose.
B Johnson [00:21:47] And that’s a possibility after the midterm elections or if the funds that we can use for workforce or other funds that we can use for this purpose.
Hendren [00:21:59] But again, I’m just trying to get to the heart and have it on the record, but we’re not going to use state funds for this program?
B Johnson [00:22:05] Yes. Not use state funds. Yes.
Griffin [00:22:10] Sen. Leding, then Sen. Dismang.
Leding [00:22:13] Thank you, Mr. President. Senator, you and I talked briefly before, earlier this morning and you touched on it just now in your remarks. But just to clarify for people back home, Fayetteville right now is offering anybody who lives in the city and works in the city a one time $100 benefit if they get vaccinated against COVID 19. And should SB 732 become law the way you’ve amended it now, that would not end such a positive reinforcement campaign?
B Johnson [00:22:35] No.
Leding [00:22:35] Thank you.
Griffin [00:22:37] Senator Dismang, then Sen. Tucker.
Dismang [00:22:40] Thank you. Just on this– and I guess my question goes back to, I mean, if your employer is forcing you to do something that you do not want to do– just set vaccines aside, just based on principle. Are you allowed to leave your place of employment? Quit, go find another job?
B Johnson [00:22:58] Absolutely.
Dismang [00:23:00] And I guess then my question is, if you have a fundamental disagreement with your employer as it relates to the vaccine, are you prevented from then leaving?
B Johnson [00:23:12] No.
Dismang [00:23:13] OK, so if an individual wants to make the choice that they do not want to work for an employer that believes that the vaccine should be mandated by the employer, they’re not required to do that, are they?
B Johnson [00:23:25] No.
Dismang [00:23:26] OK, thank you.
Griffin [00:23:27] Sen. Tucker.
Tucker [00:23:30] Thank you, governor. Senator, there’s a term that’s used in the bill: philosophical beliefs. Could you just– it’s not defined in the bill, and I just was curious, could you flesh that out for me?
B Johnson [00:23:42] Well, I mean, there are folks that don’t have religious beliefs that this covers under the First Amendment. And a philosophical belief would be a internal belief that is not defined by religion. So those are outside of the religious realm. And–.
Tucker [00:24:01] Is there any limitation on that or constraint or just if you have a philosophical belief not to get the vaccine, that’s it? End of story?
B Johnson [00:24:09] As individuals– I mean, that’s covered under education law now in vaccine immunization.
Tucker [00:24:16] Okay, thank you.
Griffin [00:24:18] Any other questions? Anyone wish to speak against? Senator Dismang is recognized. Anybody after that? Senator Dismang.
Dismang [00:24:32] Thank you. Members, we’ve all had jobs. We all take jobs. We all have agreements or disagreements with our employers. Some of us are employers. At the end of the day, we all have the right to choose whether or not we work somewhere and if our beliefs agree with those of our employer. If we don’t, then we leave. We find another job. What this bill is saying is that if the employer who owns the property, who owns the businesses, put up the capital– if they have a disagreement, that employee’s right trumps that. To me, that’s where you draw the line. I was against mandates– and I think you all all know this– when we started mandating what businesses did back in the beginning. I thought it was too early, thought it was punitive to certain businesses, and it wasn’t providing the benefit that was needed. I was opposed then to the mandates. I know, personally, businesses that did not survive the mandates. But we’re going to mandate today. We’re going to mandate again because on this particular situation– because back in the beginning, we all, you know the vast majority of us were against mandates. We knew better then on mandates, and now we know better again on mandates. I mean, I guess my request would be, let that contract exist between the employee and the employer. And if one is not happy with the other then they have the full right to move on, go find another job, and better their lives and not work for someone that they philosophically disagree with. With that, thank you.
Griffin [00:26:14] Sen. Ingram, question for Senator Dismang.
Ingram [00:26:20] Senator, if you owned a business that, let’s say, that were in and outside of households– you’re a plumber or you’re an electrician or you are in the pesticide business. And because your employee is in and out of houses with the potential because they’re not vaccinated to pass the COVID virus, wouldn’t it make sense that your company is now liable if they should pass that COVID virus on to that household and it’s proven?
Dismang [00:26:58] Well, and I think the employer should have the right to be able to weigh that liability with their own beliefs. I mean, there’s a consequence, right? I mean, I don’t want to get into the weeds on vaccinations because it doesn’t do any good. I mean, it’s very hard and fast. I mean, there’s a few folks in the middle, but for the most part, people either believe they work, don’t work, that they’re from the devil, that they’re, you know, whatever it may be. And you get to make that market decision as an employer that, you know, where does it lie? Where do my customer base lie? What do they want from me? How much liability am I willing to take? We’re taking that option away from the employer. We’re risking their business. Or maybe we’re not. But again, that’s not our decision to make. That’s the employer’s decision to make. Just like it’s the employee’s decision to make whether or not they stay in that employment or not.
Ingram [00:27:46] Thank you.
Griffin [00:27:50] Question, Senator Garner.
Garner [00:27:54] Sen. Dismang, would you prescribe the same philosophy to other protected class created by legislation such as African-Americans and age discrimination or medical history discrimination such as those who are HIV positive and can’t be terminate– terminated because of that status? Would you prescribe that same status have been in our law for 50 plus years to the same principle you just described?
Dismang [00:28:15] Would I ascribe that same principle? Well, and again, you’re wanting me to get into the decision of whether or not that, you know, COVID is even transmissible. A lot of people believe it is. Some people believe it’s not. I’ve gotten plenty of emails and texts this morning that COVID isn’t even real. Right. And again, what I’m saying is that employers should be able to have that right to make that call to know what’s best for their business, just as the employee has the right to make that call to know what’s best for themselves. And I mean, at the end of the day, why would you want to work for someone that you have such a disagreement with? I wouldn’t.
Garner [00:28:55] Can you prescribe those same principles to say an African-American who was fired because of their ra– their color of the skin, somebody who had AID that cannot be fired because that that same principle that if they want to go work somewhere else and their employer–
Dismang [00:29:07] I don’t think someone’s skin color makes someone sick.
Garner [00:29:12] [00:29:12]I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Can I finish my question? [Gavel] Can I finish my question, sir? Would you prescribe those same belief systems to that as well?
Dismang [00:29:16] Do I think that African-American people should be fired or the employer should have the right to fire them because of the color of their skin? No, that’s not the same. I believe that is apples and oranges.
Garner [00:29:28] I believe it’s a protected class. Thank you, sir.
Griffin [00:29:31] Okay. The senator has left the well. So who– anyone wish to speak in favor of the bill? Speak against the bill? Senator Hendren is recognized against the bill.
Hendren [00:29:55] I won’t take long. And we’re going to have three or four bills today, and I think the arguments are the same for all of them.But I do think it’s important for somebody who’s been been down here a while to tell you what you just heard from Senator Dismang was the conservative position, which is that government doesn’t need to get in the middle of every decision that businesses make. Now, does government have a role to play in workplace safety and fair playing field? Of course it does. And to Senator Garner’s question to compare, compare– right now, now there are some legislation that may change that. But right now, vaccination status is not a protected class like race is. And to compare those two makes no sense. But let me just say why I’m opposed to this and the other bills that we’re going to have. And the first one we’ve already fleshed out. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it, but I think this entire effort to open this session up is unconstitutional and contrary to the tradition that’s been set by the General Assembly for the 93 other general assemblies we’ve had. We are supposed to be here to sine die and do anything that we were unable to do because of circumstances beyond our control, like redistricting. You heard from the pro tem that was his intent with this resolution. We’ve gone way outside of this–
Unknown Senator [00:31:07] Point of order.
Hendren [00:31:09] And I am speaking against the bill. We’ve gone way outside of that and we’re addressing–
Griffin [00:31:15] One second, senator. I give the senator wide latitude to speak against the bill. These are some of the reasons he’s against the bill. He has wide latitude from the well to express that.
Hendren [00:31:24] Yeah, and I use that wide latitude to say that I’m against all bills that I believe are patently unconstitutional. And as we fleshed out yesterday, I think this one is. And again, we had 15 members who agreed. The rest– you either agree or you disagree. But what I hope is you don’t agree and you’re voting for it because it’s politically expedient. It is a serious thing to pass legislation that you know is contrary to the intent of the Constitution. And I hope we don’t do that. Let me just say, as an employer, it’s clear that these– this bill and others violate federal law and will likely violate OSHA regulation. You are putting employers in a position where they’re going to have to decide, do I follow what the federal government tells me under federal law and under state regulation governed by OSHA, or do I follow what the state legislature has told me to do in Arkansas? Because and we all know how it’s going to end. The courts are going to make that decision, and they’re going to say that the federal government trumps. They have supremacy. But that doesn’t change the fact that in the meantime, we’ve put all of these businesses who do business in all parts of the country in a horrible position because we’re passing laws contrary to what the OSHA regulations say, we know are going to say. We’ve already talked about the funding issue of this. I think one of the cruelest things we can do is give people this idea that they’re going to get taken care of if they make the decision under this legislation to leave their job. And we know full well that there’s no federal funds going to be– are allocated for that and likely will be allocated to that. And that’s why I wanted to be clear is don’t tell the state then that we’re going to come back and pick up the difference because you’ve made promises that you know are unkeepable, which is what this legislation does. And then finally, I’ll just, I’ll just say in closing, again, on all these pieces of legislation, we tend to get hung up with a lot of things other than the reality. The reality is 700,000 Americans are dead and over 7,000 Arkansans. And employers are trying to do the best they can to stop that from ravaging their workforce– not just for profit, but because they care about their people. As Senator Dismang said, the conservative position is I’m not for mandates. The government shouldn’t tell me I have to vaccinate everybody in my workforce. I’m opposed to what the Biden administration did with that rule. But I’m also not for the Legislature telling me what to do with regard to vaccinating my workforce, which is what we’re doing. I had 22 percent vaccination rate at my company and we’re over 90 percent. And I did it with a solution that was unique to my company and my people. I didn’t need the General Assembly or the federal government telling me how to do, how to do that. Why are we so determined to impose what we think is our will and is right on private businesses? That’s just not the conservative position. That’s not been the position of this Legislature over the past. And I and I hope that we will defeat this and the other pieces of legislation.
Griffin [00:34:16] Well the Senator take questions?
Hendren [00:34:17] Yeah.
Griffin [00:34:18] Okay. So Senator Hammer, Senator Stubblefield. Anybody else want to ask– OK. Senator Hammer, Sen. Stubblefield, Sen. Elliott. Senator Hammer.
Hammer [00:34:29] Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for taking questions. Senator Hendren, did you just say that 90 percent of your work– 90 percent of your workforce is vaccinated?
Hendren [00:34:39] Yes.
Hammer [00:34:40] Does that mean you’re going to let the other 10 percent go? Or how are you going to handle addressing the concerns of the 10 percent that are not vaccinated?
Hendren [00:34:50] I have taken steps to continue to encourage the other 10 percent. I had a 30 minute conversation with one of them just last week and I will continue. And in the meantime, I’ve taken steps to give them more protection than the others who were vaccinated in the industry. I have found a solution that has worked for us. And I will tell you this. I considered mandating it. And just, and just the threat of that available mandate was a tool that I used to get to the place I needed to be with my people because the fact is they appreciated that I didn’t. And they realized that I was not doing this for that reason, just to punish them. I was doing it because I cared about our workforce and I cared about them and their families.
Hammer [00:35:30] All right, thank you.
Griffin [00:35:32] Senator Stubblefield, then Senator Elliott.
Stubblefield [00:35:35] Thank you, thank you, governor. Sen Hendren, you mentioned the Constitution a number of times. Can you tell me where the Constitution gives OSHA the authority to deal in health care matters?
Hendren [00:35:49] They do it all the time, the federal government–
Stubblefield [00:35:52] No, where does it–
Hendren [00:35:52] I will tell you– [Gavel]
Stubblefield [00:35:54] Where does the Constitution– I’m talking about where is it listed in the Constitution? Where is it in the Constitution where Constitution actually gives OSHA the authority or the power to deal in people’s health issues?
Hendren [00:36:05] I mean, Senator Stubblefield, I don’t have the US Constitution here in front of me, but I think–
Stubblefield [00:36:11] It doesn’t.
Hendren [00:36:12] Let me answer. I think all of us know that the federal government has roles and responsibilities to play with interstate commerce and workplace safety. They’ve established under that Constitution the right of life, the right to have fair workplaces. They’ve established an organization and agency to do that. And that’s what OSHA does. And I mean, if you think that we can just tell the employers they can ignore OSHA, you don’t understand how it works.
Griffin [00:36:38] Turn your phone off, Sen. Teague.
Stubblefield [00:36:39] The federal government was given 17 enumerated powers, most of which all dealt with foreign affairs. None of those dealt with OSHA having authority over health care matters. And as far as, as far as mandates affecting businesses and individuals, let’s look at the hospital in New York, where all the doctors quit and the had to close down a complete pediatric unit because no doctors or nurses would take the vaccine. They all quit. So the mandates are affecting businesses. They’re putting businesses out of business. And before this is over, other states are going to be hiring thousands of substitute teachers to take the place of teachers because of these mandates. That is going to do a lot of harm to our education that’s already been harmed the last two years, as you well know.
Griffin [00:37:26] Sen. Stubblefield, if you want to speak against– for the bill, you can do that.
Stubblefield [00:37:31] No, I’m done. I’m done.
Griffin [00:37:31] Let’s try to keep it moving on questions. Did you have another question or? OK. Sen. Elliott. This is questions to the senator speaking against the bill.
Elliott [00:37:44] Thank you, Senator Hendren. I just wanted to amplify and be sure I edify something you said from the well that about the question from Senator Garner about the protective classes. Would you agree with me that as far as we know by science that COVID 19 is a contagious disease? To be an African-American is not a contagious disease. That’s a really big distinction, is it not?
Hendren [00:38:19] Absolutely. And that’s why I made the point. I’ve seen some false equivalencies in my day, but that was, that was absolutely one of the worst. We have protected classes for reasons because there’s been some classes that have been abused over the years. Whether or not somebody takes a vaccination, to compare that with somebody’s skin color, I think is ridiculous.
Elliott [00:38:38] And do we not already have laws governing the actions of people who have AIDS? For example, if you knowingly transmit AIDS from one person to another, that’s against the law, is it not?
Hendren [00:38:54] Absolutely.
Elliott [00:38:55] Yeah. And, and also, too, I think another distinction that we have is transference of the AIDS virus is not a matter of just being airborne. It, it has to happen as a result of people in an intimate situation as opposed to I can walk into a room and have a conversation with you if I have the coronavirus, and I can transmit it. Is that not a distinction?
Hendren [00:39:27] Yeah, and it is. And the response of the business community shows that. I mean, you haven’t tried to get through the challenges of business until you’ve lived through two or three quarantines because of the transmissibility of this virus. Nobody’s experienced that with AIDS. So again, it’s not a comparison that’s even relative.
Elliott [00:39:47] Thank you, Senator.
Griffin [00:39:48] Senator Bledsoe has a question, senator, if you’d want to entertain it.
Bledsoe [00:39:52] All right. Thank you so much. Senator, I think you answered this question in your remarks, but let me be sure. What is the difference in the state of Arkansas telling private businesses they can’t mandate vaccines for their employees and the federal government telling private business they have to do that?
Hendren [00:40:17] [00:40:17]Yeah. Again, as I said, I think that the, the position that many have had in a bipartisan way in Arkansas has traditionally been we don’t overregulate businesses. And to require that a business mandate that they vaccinate their employees is a strong regulation. To require and mandate that they cannot, again is a regulation. And it’s contrary to the conservative nature of my politics and traditional Arkansas politics.
Hendren [00:40:48] Thank you.
Griffin [00:40:49] Senator Clark.
Clark [00:40:55] Sen. Hendren, you’ve talked about constitutionality a lot, and Senator Stubblefield brought this up. And you seem to opine that you thought that the presidential order using OSHA on the vaccine mandates was constitutional. Are you not aware that attorneys general across the country–
Hendren [00:41:13] I’m having trouble hearing you.
Clark [00:41:14] [00:41:14]Are you not aware that attorneys general across the country are waiting to get the exact rules, that they feel just the opposite. That, that, that’s unconstitutional and they’re just waiting for the rules to follow suit?
Hendren [00:41:27] The constitutionality issue that I raised was that we are not supposed to be doing anything except Sine die adjourning, which takes about 30 minutes, and doing redistricting. That’s the constitutionality issue. Now, if you want to wade this into the idea about whether or not the federal government has authorities to regulate health and safety in the workplace and in society, I mean, we can go there. I think it’s, it’s, whether we agree with it or not, if you think that OSHA is going to be done away with and private companies aren’t going to have to deal with them showing up for inspections and the consequences of not being in compliance, I mean, I think that’s one approach. It’s not very realistic.
Clark [00:42:04] But do not raise more than one issue that, that we shouldn’t deal with the issue because of the federal mandate.
Hendren [00:42:12] No, the constitutionality issue that we debated for two hours here and we had two hours presentation from BLR was whether or not we can come together when our when our stated intent is we’ve adjourned to come back for a sine die official adjournment. We have gone completely off the rails and I think that all of that has already been challenged and the courts have already ruled. You know, we had a close vote in here and the body made its voice known. But that doesn’t change my opinion that I don’t think we have the authority to come down here and open this session up after we’ve adjourned.
Clark [00:42:43] So if we heard an objection to do with not doing this because of confusion with the federal mandates then we misheard and should ignore that?
Hendren [00:42:55] I guess I don’t understand your question. You know, it was asked the other day is, well, conditions have changed. That doesn’t give us the right to have another session because the conditions have changed, whether it be the federal mandate or not the federal mandate. We now there’s a– you all put in a– there is a proposal going to be on the ballot, which would give us that authority under the Constitution to call ourselves back into session. But we can’t just start, well, the situation has changed, so we’re going to just come back in session. It’s outside the bounds of the Constitution and it’s never been done before.
Clark [00:43:28] So what you said you weren’t understanding. So if there was any point made that we shouldn’t do this because of the federal mandate that we should ignore that?
Hendren [00:43:41] I didn’t make that point. I said I didn’t agree with the federal mandate.
Clark [00:43:44] So, so–
Hendren [00:43:45] I did not agree with the federal mandate and I don’t agree with this mandate.
Clark [00:43:47] Thank you.
Griffin [00:43:49] Senator Hammer has a question if the senator will entertain.
Hammer [00:43:53] Thank you. Thank you for taking the question, Senator Hendren. And I’m asking this maybe for the sponsor of the bill to follow up on if you don’t know the answer to the question. But if I’m, if I’m understanding right, we already have an existing law that requires that a religious and medical exemption be offered to an employee who has an objection. And this is going to add a third component to it. Set aside the debate about constitutionality and funding and where it’s going to be paid for, what are the main objections you have to adding a third component to an already existing requirement on businesses?
Hendren [00:44:36] Are you talking about the requirements for other vaccinations that we currently have, where the law requires exceptions be made in certain cases? Because I agree with you. That is current law. And it is also current law that in the event of an outbreak, I have the ability to, to change that and to respond accordingly. And we’ve never had an outbreak in my lifetime like we are having right now in this state. So, yeah, I’m not– I don’t necessarily have so much wrong with the debate about whether we should or whether we shouldn’t add exceptions and how we do it. But here’s the problems I, I continue to have, whether we like it or not. The federal government calls the shots on this. They’re sending the money down and they are going to tell employers of over 100 in size what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. And you’re putting employers– I mentioned the airlines yesterday because three more major airlines just said they’re going to mandate it. Many of those employees work here in Little Rock and in Northwest Arkansas Regional. And now you’re going to have American Airlines in a position where the state law prevents us from doing what they have chosen and been mandated to do by the federal government. And the point I’m making, though, Senator Hammer, again, is I don’t agree with the federal mandate. I got to where I needed to be without being told by the federal government how to do it. But I don’t agree with the state legislature mandating that I can’t use all tools at my disposal.
Hammer [00:45:58] Thank you.
Griffin [00:46:02] Okay. That’s all the questions for Senator Hendren, who was speaking against. Speaking for, Senator Garner.
Garner [00:46:10] Thank you, Governor. I’ve read this bill a few times last night, today and respectfully to Senator Dismang and Senator Hendren, I don’t see any mandate for an employer in this particular bill. If you can find one, I would be happy to be pointed out, but you keep speaking on the contents of this bill, which has nothing to do with it. As far as I understand, this bill is simply this, that if an employer makes that choice to terminate somebody, then they have the ability to receive lost wages through a federal program if that money is available. That doesn’t put any mandate on an employer making business decisions. It doesn’t have any punitive actions to him as far as I can see. It’s simply, you can argue these mandates and that and my bill I’m about the run through in a minute, you’re going to probably have a better argument against because unemployment insurance does affect private businesses. I will openly admit that. But the bill we have before us really isn’t relevant to any arguments that Senator Dismang or Senator Hendren just made, to be quite blunt. The fundamental question is if somebody is terminated because they choose not to get vaccinated and if the federal funds are available, will we allow that person to make up their lost wages. And that seems to be the crux of this bill. You can agree or disagree with that idea, but let’s not interject things that aren’t in the black letter part of the law that’s currently in front of us. Once again, if I’m incorrect about that, please correct me. I know Senator Hammer’s bill deals with mandates. My bill deals with unemployment. But I think we should respect Senator Johnson enough to actually look at his bill, discuss the merits of it, rather than up bringing and other issues. Thank you.
Griffin [00:47:48] The senator was speaking for. Anyone wish to speak against the bill? For the bill, Senator Rapert.
Rapert [00:47:57] Thank you, Mr. President. Members, when I think about this debate and where we all are at and the claims of this is conservative or not, I think we need to come up with a new term during this pandemic. And that is Covid mania or COVID psychosis because we’ve absolutely– seems like people has just gone over the edge. We already are seeing the current surge begin to go down. Even with the over, over– what I would say overreaction that first occurred where there were mandates that were shutting down businesses. Do you not remember all of that? And then all of a sudden, for the first time that I know of– I can’t, I can’t find any other time in the history of the country where individual people were being told that they’re going to be fired if they don’t take any vaccine at all. If you can find it, I’d be happy for you to bring it to my attention. I believe in private business, private enterprise, but I also know that in this country there are a lot of things you cannot ask somebody when you are hiring them. Have you thought about that lately? When you now suddenly believe that you have the right to interject yourself and interfere with somebody’s philosophical or their religious objection to taking a shot injected into their body. When you’ve heard testimony from Arkansans that have talked about their own children who took one shot, then two shots, then had blood clots and had myocarditis and things that are going on. These are doctors and nurses in our own state that are talking about the fact that they have seen these people in the emergency rooms. This is– it would be wholly different, frankly, for all of us, if this was some sort of shot or injection that had little to no side effects and had no deaths reported with it. But it is. That’s what we’re dealing with. So I went out here and looked to answer back to some of the senators has been quoting employment law. Here’s eight questions employers aren’t allowed to ask you. They can’t ask you this. They can’t ask how old you are. They can’t ask are you married? They can’t even ask if you’re a U.S. citizen. They can’t ask you, Do you have any disabilities? That’s all to do with health. It says that you can’t even ask them if they take drugs, smoke or drink. Says you can’t even ask them what religion they practice, what’s your race or are you pregnant. My goodness, just think if we supplanted the argument today for pregnant women? You can’t do that. It goes on and on in here. There is 30 interview questions right here you cannot ask. So don’t tell me that there is no protections for individual liberty in this country that cannot be afforded. Because there’s plenty out here that affords protection for individual privacy rights and personal rights. I sought counsel from from a legal source, Liberty Counsel, which many people have got up in this well and you’ve quoted opinions from Liberty Counsel, which is a large religious liberty firm in our country. It says the existence of COVID 19 does not justify the numerous violations of fundamental individual, economic, and religious liberties. These include the rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity and the right to accept or reject the various COVID vaccines based on religious belief or other grounds. There’s a whole section in this opinion that says COVID vaccines cannot be mandatory under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act. Says in general, employee vaccine religious exemption requests must be accommodated where a reasonable accommodation exists without undue hardship to the employer under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I’m not going to read it all to you. I encourage you to go look it up. We’re going to be debating other bills that are coming up. It’s unlawful for employers– it’s quoting– to force vaccinations on staff and employees holding religious convictions against the vaccine and to refuse a reasonable accommodation. This goes for health care industry employers. In 2018– and you need to listen to this– in 2018, one hospital paid $89,000 to settle a suit after refusing to accommodate and firing employees who declined flu vaccinations based on their religious beliefs. That was OSHA involved in that as well. The US Department of Justice sought compensatory damages on behalf of a nursing home employee against whom Ozaki County, Wisconsin, discriminated. Last thing, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also recognized that there is not evidence that COVID 19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person to person. I’m just telling you, we have seen so much misinformation, so much backtracking on this information, and here’s where I leave you today. You’ve gotten the emails from people that are in the military in our state. You’ve probably gotten voicemails from people, doctors and nurses. They want to continue working. I’m not going to be part of violating a document in here that’s older than anybody serving in here. And it’s older than anything that I’ve read to you today. The Declaration of Independence said we are endowed with our creator with certain unalienable rights of which are life and liberty. We have never, never, ever violated the sanctity of that God given individual right. I’m not going to be a part of a society that holds people down and forces them to take vaccinations like this. It’s wrong. If people have an objection, just as Senator Johnson has eloquently, frankly, and profoundly frankly, taken one body that already gives these protections and just said we want them right here in this situation. You don’t want to wake up in six months from now when they change all the parameters again and regret that we have forced people out of their jobs. Let me tell you something, these people that are losing their jobs– and I’m talking to military people that feel like they have absolutely been forced when they get family members that have had issues and you’re forcing them to do this. Do you understand what we’re doing here? And yes, I speak from experience. You know I was hospitalized with this stuff. I preached my grandfather’s funeral a month after I got out of the hospital. My dad’s just getting out of rehab. It is dangerous. We need to do what we can. But turning against each other is not the answer. Threatening people’s livelihoods is not the answer. It’s about helping people. Nobody that was unvaccinated killed my grandfather. They didn’t do that. It’s a disease. We need to care about each other and stop violating fundamental principles in our country, especially when it comes to liberty.
Griffin [00:56:00] Senator, will you take questions? Take questions? Senator Hendren has a question.
Hendren [00:56:07] Thank you, Mr. President. Senator Rapert, you used the phrase a couple of times “forcing people to take a vaccination.” There is no– not even under the mandates that we have now– there is no government entity forcing anybody to take a vaccination, correct?
Rapert [00:56:21] That’s wrong. You have the president of the United States that says he says he is mandating that. And military personnel here in the state of Arkansas that are working– we’ve already had this discussion robustly. You were part of that discussion. They have an order that they are to take the vaccination or they will be dishonorably discharged or court martialed. Is that not true, Senator Hendren?
Hammer [00:56:46] No, it’s not true.
Rapert [00:56:47] Oh well, excuse me. I object for the record.
Hendren [00:56:51] Let me–
Rapert [00:56:51] I mean, actually, the Department of Defense, we can, we can pull out the information. I’ll be happy to provide those to you because it’s from the DOD. I just had this provided to me. I was asked for it and somebody thankfully had the courage to give it to me. It says that you are ordered. In this state, I’m told here in a couple of weeks they’re having a meeting. There’s going to be a discussion and they already been advised 300 of you are lining up and you’re taking the shot. If you don’t take the shot, you’ll be court martialed or you’ll be dishonorably discharged. Now that, sir, is in writing.
Hendren [00:57:26] OK, I have a little bit of experience in this area. And I will tell you, again, as we talked about in the hearing with regard to the military culture. In the testimony before your committee, the JAG and chief legal advisor of the National Guard said the likelihood that somebody would get an other than honorable or a dishonorable discharge– court-martial, it’s just ludicrous to think that somebody would be court-martialed. But even in that situation–
Rapert [00:57:52] That’s not true.
Hendren [00:57:53] Let me finish my question–
Rapert [00:57:53] That’s not true. I’ve got it in writing, sir.
Griffin [00:57:56] Let the senator finish.
Hendren [00:57:58] OK. And even in the military, nobody is going to be tied down and vaccinated. They’re going to be said, there are serious career ramifications because when you when you signed up, you signed up and you, you sacrificed some of the liberties that we all take so dear.
Rapert [00:58:15] I didn’t say that, sir.
Hendren [00:58:17] But nobody under military or under private mandate or anybody else– this is what I’m trying to get to– the question that I asked originally is nobody in this country is being forcefully vaccinated.
Rapert [00:58:31] You can believe what you want to believe. By the way, I didn’t say that the military was forcefully doing that. I was told what I was stated from an airman in the Air National Guard that told me straight up what was being told to him. And he said under, under the compulsion that has been placed upon him, he ended up succumbing to it. And he said I took it though I did not want it. It’s against my will.
Hendren [00:58:53] But he made the choice.
Rapert [00:58:53] And he shared with me, he shared with me the orders. These are orders. These are orders that said, you are going to take this. So I’m just telling you when you tell someone that you’re going to take away the ability for them to take care of their family, do you not think that’s force? Of course that’s force. You know that. It is forcing people to do something because you’re taking away the ability for them to buy food for their family, to make payments on their houses. This is something we should not do, senator. I believe in the long run when we’re at the end of this thing– because here’s the thing, people are being forced to take a vaccine. I guarantee you in the next few months or a year, they’re not even going to be using this same vaccine. They’re already now telling you you got to get a third shot because it doesn’t provide you enough immunity for long enough. I don’t want to be the guy that’s sitting here knowing that we destroyed some family, forced them into bankruptcy when the vaccine that we’re forcing them to take doesn’t even work anymore. It’s ludicrous.
Griffin [01:00:03] Sen Hammer. Will you take questions, Sen. Rapert, from Sen. Hammer?
Rapert [01:00:06] Sure.
Griffin [01:00:07] Senator Hammer.
Hammer [01:00:10] Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Senator Rapert, for taking the question. This is how I see it. We are a body that is actively in discussion. We are in session–.
Griffin [01:00:18] Do you have a question? Make sure it’s a question.
Hammer [01:00:18] Oh, there’s definitely a question.
Griffin [01:00:21] Okay, you can get up and–
Hammer [01:00:23] Got it.
Griffin [01:00:24] Got it?
Hammer [01:00:25] We are, we are in a position right now to make a decision while we wait for the federal government to figure out what they’re going to do and what the rules are going to come down. Do you think it would be better for us to go ahead and take action now, even under the threat that we may find that this is unconstitutional and at least let our citizens in the state of Arkansas that we represent know where we stand on this issue instead of waiting for the federal government to pass down rules that we don’t know when for sure they’re coming.
Rapert [01:00:51] Senator, I believe that the outcry in this state is probably at the level that we have not seen on many other issues. People want protection. You know, I grew up– every every morning when my grandfather that passed away, he would pick me up many mornings for school when I was in elementary school and we would go to Maynard, Arkansas, and we would listen to Paul Harvey. And one of those mornings, Paul Harvey, said, If I were the devil, this is what I would do. If I were trying to play the devil in this argument. I would continue to bring up the poison pill arguments that this is unconstitutional, that this is unconstitutional. It’s all an effort to knock down the bill. And the fact is, the people of Arkansas, the people in this country, they want protections. They want the truth. And I wish we put as much effort into trying to get them actual treatment that would forcing them to take a vaccine that people– it’s not as effective as they shared. They said we could go back to taking off our masks and go back to life as normal if we just took this particular vaccine. And guess what now? We’ve got people that have died that have had the vaccine. And the vaccine says that– they said it would not– you would be able to prevent the spread. But then we now find that people that have the vaccine are spreading it. My heart on this matter, my mind on this matter is stop with the overreactions that are occurring. And what’s happened is that I’ve got text even during this debate, hey, the federal government is going to force this on us. We have to stand up for liberty. If not now, when?
Hammer [01:02:38] Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President.
Griffin [01:02:39] Senator Garner, do you have a question? You did not. Any other questions? Senator Irvin has a question.
Irvin [01:02:44] Just a quick question because I’m getting emails and text messages as well. And I just want to make sure there’s some clarification. This law would not prevent, like the federal government from mandating federal employees– do you– or the military. I just want to make sure we’re clear that we don’t give any military– I’m asking that question. With your information, would any law that we passed prevent the military from doing what the military is going to do? Or will– I mean, do you interpret it that way? Or– I just want to make sure there’s no clear– there’s no false expectations out there for people who might be in the military.
Rapert [01:03:26] Senator, from my perspective, we should, we should– if it were my, my personal will, we will protect all these folks. But the federal government that is in charge of federal employees, yes, they are mandating it. And people aren’t going to forget it.
Irvin [01:03:41] Right but–
Rapert [01:03:42] And the OSHA rule that is still– we’re still waiting, right? Are they actually going to do that? Here, here– we all know what’s happening.
Irvin [01:03:49] I–
Rapert [01:03:50] The president actually made the statement so that he could get big business to do what he didn’t want to pull the trigger on immediately because that was a political decision for them. And here’s the thing, and I just want to say this, I think it is an absolute travesty. And I think there will be litigation aplenty for one of the companies in this state to be putting out a letter to their people that get an exemption for a religious exemption and their accommodation is to put them on leave for one year. That’s immoral. It’s wrong.
Irvin [01:04:27] I was– thank you. I was asking about the clarification on military and federal employees, just like Medicare. We can’t dictate spending on Medicare because that’s federal. So that was your perspective on the legislation and how it was written.
Griffin [01:04:41] Okay. Any other questions for senator Rapert? Senator Rapert has spoken in favor. Anybody want to speak against? Anybody want to speak? Senator Clark. He’s in favor, Sabrina. Sorry.
Clark [01:05:09] This bill has a– this bill has a philosophical exemption. It’s not actually an exemption. It’s the same thing that’s with our vaccines in education. It’s an opt out. One of the striking things to me in the vaccine mandate debate is the lack of compassion for others’ fears, especially as we talk about compassion. Let’s say that there was not an abnormal amount of adverse reactions to the COVID vaccines, extremely abnormal amount. Let’s say the COVID vaccines had been tested for years, and this exciting technology had not failed early in trials every other time, it had been tried as a vaccine. Let’s say that none of us who are immune to COVID because we had had the virus and according to some of the best studies in the world were safer than the vaccinated. Let’s ignore that the highest percentage of folks who won’t get the vaccine education wise are PhDs or that many of the people who won’t get the vaccine work directly with COVID and the vaccines. Let’s just say ignoring all of that, that some of our fellow travelers just have a real, albeit irrational fear to the vaccine, of the vaccine. So we say to them either overcome your fear or lose your job. So let me change it just a little bit. Let’s change that dynamic. You have to bungee jump over a half mile deep gorge or lose your job. I’m in. You don’t even have to tell me that I’d lose my job if I didn’t do it. Sounds like fun to me. And some of us– I mean, some people just roll up their sleeves. You know, you got a shot, I want it. But other people ain’t going to jump off that platform for anything in the world. But come on, it’s perfectly safe. The safety record is almost 100 percent. In fact, it’s several times safer than the vaccine. Not a fair comparison? Sure, it is. But we’re acting like this is happening in a vacuum. We’re acting like some businesses are just deciding to have a vaccine mandate, and that’s not what’s happening. This is an organized effort that is government and business combined. If it were just businesses deciding on their own, Sen. Dismang, I’d be with you and I’d be with Sen. Hendren. That’s where I started. I appreciate the argument, but that’s not what’s happening. The letter that went out to Blue Cross Blue Shield employees this past week noted that Wal-Mart and Tyson were their biggest customers? It didn’t note any conversations that may have been had between those executives about what they might do with their insurance. But there have certainly been in conversations with smaller employers about what might happen if they don’t get their employees vaccinated. And if business can regulate business, government can certainly regulate business. Especially when it comes to standing up for the little guy because we have– we also act like people can just go anywhere they want to get a job. And maybe in Pulaski county and maybe in Garland County, that’s true. But there are parts of this state where just like in the old timber days and the company store, that’s not so true. When you are given a mandate, you really are given a choice of feeding your family or not. And you’re certainly given a choice of whether to have a good job or not. So coming to the defense of the Arkansas worker and saying you ought to at least be able to say I’m immune. You ought to at least be able to say, forget all these other things, I’m just scared. I don’t know yet how this would affect a future child. And as far as constitutionality, I don’t know for sure. But I have talked to the appropriate attorneys as I usually do, and many of you have. And they have told me that we are in very safe grounds. Everybody always says the same thing. We never know what judges will do. But we feel like you’re good. So we can go on and on and on about this being unconstitutional. But the attorneys that are going to defend us think we’re good. So, no, I’m not standing down here saying I’m doing it and it’s unconstitutional. I think it’s constitutional. If I’d have got the other argument from our attorneys, I’d had said, Well, this is what I would like to do, but we’ll have to try to do something else. But I think we’re on very good ground. So I hope you’ll vote for this bill.
Griffin [01:11:35] Spoke in favor. Anyone want to speak against? For? The senator’s ready to close?
B Johnson [01:11:45] Thank you, members. And this is a very passionate issue, especially for workers in the state of Arkansas. I’ve been called a RINO. I’ve been called a right wing extremist. Being called less than conservative, I guess today is something new. But, you know, I’ve been criticized for being part of the farm program because of these same things. And that’s not free market whenever government manipulates the production of agriculture. And I agree with that fundamentally. I can work in a free market. An American worker can work in a free market without manipulation. But in the farming industry, other nations manipulate their currency. They own the ground. They force somebody to farm it. That’s what goes into the market and is less than mine in a free market. Whenever the market is manipulated, it’s not free anymore. It’s not fair. And this– what’s going on with this is demanding 100 percent compliance. Not 70 percent. It’s 100 percent or you’re gone. So you can call me whatever you want to. But I’m going to protect workers around the state and those guys who work for Tyson that might be growing chickens. And the next, the next job that would be comparable is 50 miles away. So I don’t care what you call me. Whatever, I’d appreciate a good vote. Thank you.
[01:13:36] The senator is closed. Madam Secretary, please call the roll.
Cornwell [01:13:42] Ballinger, Ballinger. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, no. Chesterfield, no. Clark, yes. Davis, Davis. Dismang, no. Eads, no. Elliott, no. English, no. Flippo, no. Flowers, Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, Gilmore. Hammer, yes. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, no. Hill, yes. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, no. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague, no. Tucker, no. Wallace, yes. [16 yes, 15 no, 4 not voting]
Griffin [01:15:02] Anyone wish to vote or change their vote? Cast– Senator Ballinger is aye. Cast up the– Senator Gilmore is aye. Cast up the ballot– oh, you already had it. OK, 17 yeas, 15 nays. The bill fails. That’s not majority of those voting. That requires 18. So the bill fails.
Garner [01:15:30] Point of order, please. Point of order.
Griffin [01:15:37] Obviously the emergency clause failed. Sen. Garner.
Garner [01:15:40] Yes, sir. Just a point of order and procedure. I know we discussed going into recess for five or 10 minutes to hear Senator Hammer’s bill so everybody can read it while it’s engrossed. As of now, I don’t have a copy of that, even though I do think it–.
Griffin [01:15:51] I’m working on that.
Garner [01:15:52] OK, I was going to ask– this my question. Can we hear my bill in the meantime to allow people time to read that or we do we just need to recess and move forward and draw out the process?
Garner [01:16:01] Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to– yes. Go ahead, senator. Do you have a question?
Rapert [01:16:06] I have a motion at the proper time.
Griffin [01:16:07] OK, so we need to read across the desk. OK. We need to do that. And then we need to distribute the copies. We were going to– the plan was to distribute copies of both of the bills because they were both just amended. I don’t think it makes sense to do one and not the other, but– and they’re ready, according to the clerk. So that, that and we’re going to take a recess, that’s the plan.
Garner [01:16:34] Yes, sir. I guess my argument would be that while people are getting that engrossed copy of the– Senator Hammer’s bill, which has substantive changes, we could be debating my bill, which was only emergency clause and kind of reduce the amount of time we’re in the chamber. I’m good either way. That was just the thought process I had. And if the body is good with it, I will do that. If not, it’s fine.
Griffin [01:16:52] Okay. Sen., Sen. Rapert.
Rapert [01:16:55] I have a motion to expunge the vote by which Senate Bill 732 failed.
Griffin [01:17:01] You’ve heard the motion. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Let’s do it again. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. The ayes have it. Expunged.
Rapert [01:17:18] I’d like to make a motion, motion to put the bill back on the calendar at the end of the day.
Griffin [01:17:25] OK, just to be clear, the expunge vote requires 24. Now you have a motion to put it back on the calendar, to suspend the rules.
Rapert [01:17:32] Yes, sir.
Griffin [01:17:33] This is a motion to suspend the rules. Any questions? All those in favor say Aye. Opposed. The noes have it.
Unknown Senator [01:17:49] Roll call.
Griffin [01:17:49] Do we have five? One, two, three– we do have five hands. This is on a motion to suspend the rules to put it on the, put it on the calendar. And it takes twenty four votes. Madam Secretary, please call the roll.
Cornwell [01:18:14] Ballinger, yes. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe. Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, yes. Chesterfield, no. Clark, yes. Davis, yes. Dismang, Dismang. Eads, yes. Elliott, no. English, English. Flippo, yes. Flowers, Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer, yes. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, Hickey. Hill, yes. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, yes. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague, yes. Tucker, no. Wallace, aye. [24 yes, 7 no, 5 not voting]
Griffin [01:19:40] Twenty four. Anyone wish to vote or change their vote? Senator Bledsoe’s aye. Sen. Dismang’s no. Sen. Hendren’s aye. Oh, he’s aye. Sen. Dismang’s aye. I’m sorry. Senator Hickey;s aye. Sen. English is aye. Anybody else? Senator Hendren’s aye. Anybody else? Cast up the ballot. 29 yeas, 5 nays, the motion carries. The rules are suspended. The bill will go back on the calendar at the end of the calendar. OK, there any items at the desk?
Cornwell [01:20:21] Yes, sir. We your Committee on Engrossed Bills to whom was referred Senate Bill 730 by Senator Garner compared the engrossed copy with the original and find the same correctly engrossed.
Griffin [01:20:30] Calendar.
Cornwell [01:20:30] We your Committee on Engrossed Bills to whom was referred Senate Bill 739 by Senator Hammer compared the engrossed copy with the original and find the same correctly engrossed.
Griffin [01:20:44] Calendar. We are in research, research– we’re in recess and research subject to the call of the chair for at least 15 minutes, at least 15 minutes. Subject to the call of the chair.
Griffin [00:03:18] The Senate will come to order. No, she can catch up. I’m going to, I’m going to explain this for a second. Senators, I had a couple of questions about the whole casting up the ballot and getting your vote in and when’s the cut off and what part of my syllable does the thing cut? Here, here’s the deal. So when I say “cast up” and I’m about– I’m saying, “Cast up the ballot.” Those are the magic two words for Sabrina to hit the button which shuts down any, any, any voting– any additional voting. So I could just not open it back up after I say, “Cast.” I cut myself off. I do that just because I see people trying to vote. I’m trying to get as many people as possible. But at some point she hits that button. And if I’ve said “cast up” and stop myself, it may be too late. So you just have to know that, that that’s a possibility. If you’re waiting to the last minute, you may not, you may not get your vote in. And that’s not my fault. And it’s really, it’s really your fault. But I mean, that’s cool. I just want you to know no one’s trying to pick and choose who gets their votes in. And you know, that’s, that’s what’s happening. She’s hitting the button and I can’t do anything about it. OK. All right. Any items at the desk? We’re good? OK. Senator, Senator Mark Johnson wishes to be recognized for a point of personal privilege.
M Johnson [00:04:57] Thank you, Mr. President. Over the weekend, I was informed by colleagues that some individuals on social media misheard a statement that I made during debate on Thursday. I just want to make it clear that I did not make the statement that some folks misheard, and that I truly appreciate my colleagues pointing this out to me. And I will try to keep my country Arkansas accent under control and speak more clearly in the future. Thank you, Mr. President.
Griffin [00:05:26] Thank you. Okay. SB 739. Senator Hammer. The bill as amended.
Cornwell [00:05:44] Senate Bill 739 by Senator Hammer to provide employee exemptions from federal mandates, employer mandates related to COVID 19 and declare an emergency.
Griffin [00:05:56] Senator Hammer.
Hammer [00:06:00] Thank you, Mr. President. What–
Griffin [00:06:05] [Gavel] Senator Hammer.
Hammer [00:06:05] Thank you, Mr. President. What I’d like to do is just simply go through the bill. It’s four pages. I will hit the high points and be glad to answer any questions. First of all, to a couple of questions that were asked earlier regarding and comments that were made about constitutionality, as one person told me in a position that we seek guidance from, it’s constitutional until it’s proven not to be in court. So with regard to their argument, I’d just like to put that out on the table for you to consider. And the second thing is that we are proposing to pass legislation as a state in the absence of a federal government who is forced upon us a mandate with the expectation that rules would be forthcoming in the future. And maybe you have more confidence in the federal government than I do with regards to that. But until or with the absence of those rules, this would stand, I think, to be constitutional. Set aside the question of whether that aligns with the resolution or not. On Page 1, section 1 is a do not codify section. And it states, “We as the General Assembly find,” and it gives four specific points. In essence, none of us really want to be here to be having this discussion in the first place. So who is it that has put us in a position to have to have this discussion in the first place? It is our federal government under the current administration that has forced this issue. And as a result, we as legislators are stepping up to help give our citizens both guidance, input, and also in some cases as allowed in this bill, protection. The General Assembly, and I have put in there the intent that it intends to protect employees in Arkansas from an impending termination due to vaccine mandates. And over to the second page, it creates the ability for funding to be available to assist employees in Arkansas with the cost associated with the testing. Further on in the bill, you will find that there’s a key phrase and that is ‘if available.’ So with regards to the question of whether or not the current funding can or cannot be used, that would be determined based upon whether it is available or not. I’ll acknowledge that the consultant has been salt– has, has been consulted and has rendered opinion that that money, in their opinion, could not be used. And I understand we hire consultants to give us guidance. I also want to remind you that on several occasions we have fired consultants who have been giving us guidance, such as things like tax policies, because we determined that what they were giving us was not good advice. I just want to give that out for historical perspective that consultants are exactly that– they’re consultants, but they are not the court and they are not the Legislature. They are individuals we hire to give us an opinion. Moving down to Section 2, it says that an employer that requires or is mandated. Understand this. This piece of legislation was actually presented to me in thought and in concept from a business who has less than 100 employees. That’s where this idea was born out of. We stand here and we talk on the floor like every employer, every employer wants to mandate or has been forced to mandate their employees to get vaccines. I’ve been approached by several businesses in my district, one which employs over 600, one that employs less than 100, and the message they’ve communicated to me is this, We don’t want to be forced to do anything as a government– we don’t– by the government. We don’t want to be forced to do anything by the federal government. But what else can we do? What else can we do if you’re a business that doesn’t want to force people to be vaccinated? The question from some of the businesses– I get it. And and let’s be very transparent. Let’s go ahead and be very open. There are some organizations that present themselves as representing the statewide industry or represent everybody in the state that has a business. Well, I want to tell you, some of the businesses that have approached me have said, give us an out. Provide us a way forward to where we can provide to our employees that don’t want to be vaccinated coverage so that we can give them the exception. And that’s what this is proposed to be is the exception. I understand, whether it is conceptual or whether is reality, that there are businesses that may or may not have colluded with the government in order to force vaccinations upon their employees. I don’t know. I wasn’t in the boardroom. I wasn’t on the phone call. I don’t know. OK, but what I do know is that I have heard from some of my businesses that have said, you got to help us out. And that’s part of what this is. You know, if you’re a business that wants to mandate it, that’s your decision. I understand that. But what about if you’re the business that doesn’t want to mandate, what are we doing for them and how are we helping them? That’s part of what this is intended to do. So an employer that requires or is mandated to require vaccinations, the employees shall be provided– on line 14 of page 2– a specific exemption process. We are saying that if you are an employee– an employer, excuse me– that either by your own decision chooses to mandate or you have been made to mandate by the federal government or even the state government, you have to include an exemption process. And here’s what that process and the specifics are: a negative antigen detection test result– and that’s on line 17 through 19– one time a week. One of the questions that was asked earlier on the floor was the question of this. So if you are in an environment and you are not vaccinated, you would be required to take a test in order to provide to the employer and to those you’re working around the assurance that you are not a carrier of the vaccine or of the, of the virus. Second thing is proof of immunity for the virus that causes the COVID 19. And this– and much of this, this part right here was actually contributed by a fellow senator as far as making sure that that’s in there because of studies that have been done around the world, some in state– or some in the country, some out of the country, and the viability that this is a good option to those that don’t want to be vaccinated. It was kind of ironic– or I want to read to you from the CDC website, the CDC website. U.S.-bound refugees are not required to receive vaccinations before arriving in the United States. You skip on down to the fourth point, checking for laboratory evidence of immunity, i.e. antibody levels, is an acceptable alternative to vaccinations when previous vaccination or disease exposure are likely. Full transparency, I want to read you the rest of the comment. However, the clinicians should be familiar with the efficiency and the interpretation of, of available blood tests when relying on test as proof of immunity. CDC guidelines. That’s what they said. Some want to use the CDC to hide behind, and some want to use the CDC in order to be able to defend. It just matters on your perception or your perspective on the situation. I’m just telling you that’s what the CDC guidelines said. I could go into a political statement, which I won’t, regarding those that are coming in from out of the country do not have to receive the vaccine, but we’re going to force it on our employees to have to get the vaccine while we allow an escape clause for those that are not yet legal citizens of our country. When you go on and you go down further in the bill on Page 2, the employee may choose which tests to take. In debate last week in Public Health, of which I’m glad that we had that opportunity to debate, a medical doctor sat at the table. One individual representing another entity said the test would cost $100. The medical doctor says we give those tests every day in our office for $7. It is affordable, is affordable. Sometimes I think it depends on which narrative you’re pushing, whether you say $100, be scared, or $7. It’s affordable. As you read on down, and so the employee– but thanks to the contribution of another senator in the chamber, we actually said it can’t be a voodoo doctor test that you’re going to take. It’s got to be one that has passed the hurdles. It’s got to be one that is approved so that we can make sure that the test that you are providing actually is acceptable, and with regards to the testing, the test would be paid for either or could be– let me, I think that’d be a better way to state it. The test could be paid for by the employee’s health insurance program if it is allowable. It could be provided by fundings if made available. But the bottom line is, and to the much disagreement of some that have been on social media, the employee would be responsible for the test. Now, depending on which person you want to listen to, some are grateful to have the opportunity. They’re willing to pay for the $7 test in order to keep their job of 20 years and not lose their pension. Others think that the employers ought to pay for it if it’s mandated. We will agree to disagree. This is a pathway forward. When you turn over to Page 3, in the event that the cost of testing under subdivision, the section is not available. Now to those of you that are concerned about whether the money that we have passed down by the federal government allows for it to be used or not, that key phrase right there in line 4 on Page 3 says, is section is not available, the cost of the testing shall be covered by employees. So if the, if the courts or whoever decides at that federal money is not available, if there’s no state money that is put toward this to help the few, the minority of those who don’t want to get the vaccination, then it falls on the burden of the employee. When it comes down to line, let’s see– OK, Line 10. If an employee complies with the requirements of the specific exemption process related to the virus as required by the section, the employee shall not be terminated for mandates related to COVID 19. They can be terminated for everything else. You got a bad employee, you got somebody that needs to be removed because of other things. It doesn’t interfere with that at all. It is specific to just this one thing. Now here’s one important section, and I think Senator Chesterfield raised this question this morning. When you get to 13 to 15, nothing in the section should be interpreted to modify any other agreement between the employer, employee or to amend or affect the employment at will doctrine and whether written or otherwise. We’ve inserted that purposely to make sure that we do not lose our employee, employment at will doctor and status as a state as a safeguard. Department of Finance is being directed to establish by rule, which means it’s coming by us, if funds are made available what that would look like. I put in their three main key components so that we would not surrender our authority over to the other branch and just leave it willy nilly. I put in there at least three of the minimum requirements to force the issue that the rules by which the funds would be dispensed would be brought before us as a legislative branch. And the Department shall report to the Legislative Council on a monthly basis so we can stay up to date on it. Then 30 to 32, if an employee’s terminated due to an employer’s written– or the employer’s violation of this section, the employee– and I want you to notice the key phrase may be, not shall, but may be eligible for unemployment benefits in addition to any other remedy available to the employee. So it would be treated just like any other situation where an employee is terminated, wants to file for unemployment, and they would be given due consideration. But also the employer would be able to have opportunity to debate. To your question this morning, Senator Chesterfield, my understanding is it’d be treated like anything else. In the absence of any federal funding, the state unemployment would be the, would be the avenue of recourse for those that would that that would be terminated and seek unemployment. OK. And then one key thing I want you to notice is this, we are in uncertain times. And so I did not want this to be a law that would go on indefinitely. And so I have put on there a sunset clause at the suggestion of one of my fellow senators of which I want to– and I won’t name you all. But there are several senators that have contributed to this. Obviously, Senator Hill revealed this morning his contribution to it in his comments. There are several that contributed. Does that mean everybody likes it? I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that many senators have contributed to this. One of the things that was contributed is let’s put a sunset clause on this thing, because when we come back in general session in 2023, those of us that are here will be able to have this matter before us to decide. And if we don’t, it goes away. My personal preference and prayer is it all goes away because the virus goes away. But the reality is that may not happen. But this puts in place a safe gap. Now there is an emergency clause. In conclusion, there is an emergency clause. And the reason I put the emergency clause on there is because there are dates that are coming quickly and we’re all getting the emails and we’re all hearing the discussion that some employees are going to lose their job if they are forced to pick between keeping their job or getting the vaccine. And the reason I put the emergency clause in there is because if this does not go through with the emergency clause and it’s 90 days out, a lot of people are going to lose their job, which means a lot of people are going to lose their pensions. They’re going to lose a lot of things. And some companies that they have worked there for 20 years and the reason I know that is because I’m getting some of the emails you’re getting. Not in a cookie cutter fashion, but from people whose lives are personally being touched. Do I wish we were where we are as far as having to walk that balance beam of between employer and employee? I wish we weren’t there, but the reality is we’re there. I hope this bill threads the needle to where it can help in the future, and I’ll be glad to answer any questions
Griffin [00:21:27] Question? Sen. Irvin and Sen. Teague.
Irvin [00:21:29] Senator Hammer, last Friday during the Public Health Committee meeting in response to a question that Senator Hester asked of one of the witnesses who was a law professor who gave, I thought, an articulate response to Senator Hester’s question about threading the needle and that he preferred your bill over the others because it didn’t mess necessarily with the contractual basis of– that’s in other parts of contractual law with employees and employers. Do you mind just re– I would say if you can just rephrase or summarize that person’s testimony because I thought it was very good testimony.
Hammer [00:22:13] I’ll do my best and help me fill in the blanks through another question. What he sat down and said was basically, this is as close as you could get without going over the line, that this provides that pathway forward where it doesn’t interfere with that contractual arrangement. I think there would probably– we could argue some precedents where we as legislators have passed laws where we have inserted into the employer, employee work environment certain laws to make sure that there is that balance. You know, somebody mentioned a while ago about how that we regulate overtime and the, you know, the details of other things. This is just one more that’s in there. Here’s the good thing. At the end of the day when that discussion is all done, this thing will go away in July of 23 if there’s no further action required. And so I think maybe to the attorney and I’m, I’m just saying what he said and you can go back watch the tape. You know, he professed not to be a solid conservative, but he said this is a good pathway forward based on his understanding as a constitutional attorney that it threaded the needle.
Griffin [00:23:29] Sen. Teague of Southwest Arkansas.
Teague [00:23:30] Thank you, Mr. President. Kim, you said state unemployment. In reality, you’re spending the employer’s money, right? If there’s no federal dollars for unemployment and it goes back? You said state unemployment, but in reality, it’s the employer’s money. The employers pay the unemployment cost.
Hammer [00:23:50] I would concede at the end of the day, it’s the employer that is contributing into the unemployment trust fund, of which there, as I understand it also may be a layer, you know, for, for the unforeseen things for lack of a better term. But to your, to your question, yes.
Teague [00:24:05] Thank you.
Griffin [00:24:06] Senator Sullivan, then Senator Dismang, then Senator English.
Sullivan [00:24:10] [Unintelligible] The fund is paid for by the employer. However, with this in place, they don’t have to terminate the employee. So there doesn’t have to be a penalty of such. If that’s what they’re referencing, there’s not necessarily a penalty if one doesn’t fire the employee and allows these accommodations. Is that correct?
Hammer [00:24:37] That’s correct. And I think that’s why the phrase is in there. Without me looking back and find, I think we’ll, “may be.” You know it, it creates that the debate would occur just like any other time an employee is terminated as well for the employee to present their case and employer present their case.
Sullivan [00:24:55] So the, the point is being made that this is a penalty on business. So it’s only a penalty on business if the business chooses not to allow accommodations. Then it doesn’t have any impact at all. Correct?
Hammer [00:25:09] Yes. And we are providing those accommodations to avoid that situation.
Sullivan [00:25:13] Right. Thank you.
Hammer [00:25:14] Thank you.
Griffin [00:25:15] Sen. Dismang.
Dismang [00:25:16] And so one of my questions, you know, we’re still waiting as we’ve talked about– and there’s still folks, attorney generals, that are fighting this new federal mandate. Even though we don’t have the rules they’ve planned– you know, it’s their intent that they’re going to fight these mandates. So two parts to this question, number one, what if they are successful and we have this on our books here in the state of Arkansas? Or two, since we’re waiting on the rules, and from what I’m understanding, a large part of this bill mirrors what we anticipate the feds to allow. So number one, that they’re going to allow for certain exemptions. Number two that they’re going to pay for the testing, you know, that goes for those that choose not to become vaccinated. And so my concern would be, again just to circle back, what if it’s over– you know, what if, what if this rule is overturned, that it’s a federal overreach, as many believe it is, as I believe that it is. And then number two, what if the feds are more lenient on the exceptions process than we even are being here in this bill?
Hammer [00:26:15] Sure. Thank you for that. Couple of thoughts. Number one, if we’re always going to wait for the federal government, then either, A, we need to– and this, this is kind of extreme, but just in response to your question– if we’re gonna let the federal government always dictate the rules, then there’s no reason for us to pass any legislation. Let’s just wait for the federal government to do it all, and we’ll just say thank you very much. We’ll do what you want us to do, number one. Number two, I would say that you’ve almost proved my point for why this is a good bill. And that is you said the expectation is that the federal rule will mirror a lot of what’s in here. So it should remove the potential if somebody is fearful of what the federal government is going to do, that these things are already going to be in place. Number three, what if there is a difference? Well, there’s always the potential for difference of opinion between what we as a state do and what the federal government proposes. And that’s why I think we have that ability as a state to step up and say, this is what we think. Because if those rules are still being drafted, I would think that somebody is probably watching what’s going on here and maybe they’ll draft those rules in accommodation to what I think is a good common sense to addressing it. But if not, we’ve got a special session coming down the line. We can fix it then. Because the rules, the rules we’ve been told, are supposed to be out this month. Now, whether you believe that or not, I’m just going on what it’s been said. We can always come back and fix this like we’ve had to come back and fix other things as well or go to court and hopefully we’ll win.
Griffin [00:27:49] Senator English.
English [00:27:49] I guess one of the things that kind of concerns me with this is that the maybe unrealistic expectation of somebody who can’t– is forced to leave their job and that there will be unemployment benefits. I just don’t, I don’t know what the– I don’t know if the federal law dictates what we do here at the state, if there’s an overarching thing and whether that’s– I just want to make sure that we aren’t setting up unrealistic expectations. So that if somebody leaves, the reality is they only get 26 weeks, if that was at all possible. They don’t– which isn’t going to renew their life and isn’t going to pay all their mortgages and things like that. So sort of, I want to make sure that people don’t get this feeling that their life is going to be whole once they quit their job and they have the opportunity to apply– and that’s just it– an opportunity to apply for unemployment benefits that the world’s going to be just fine. Those are my, my concerns.
Hammer [00:29:00] Thank you for raising that question. Let me address it. And thank you, Senator English. Number one, nobody should get the expectation that if they are terminated, they automatically get unemployment. Because right now I got an email where somebody is still trying to get unemployment from 17 weeks ago when they filed because our system is so bungled up. So there should be the expectation that if you are a– if you are an employee and this bill goes into place and an employer now has to include this process, there’s going to be some lag time. But don’t assume automatically that you will qualify for unemployment. But here’s the one thing I want everybody to understand. At least there is a pathway forward for it to be considered. Because right now, if you’re terminated, you got opportunity of zip. At least that provides the opportunity for the discussion to take place. In my opinion, I think that it would be better to create that opportunity for that discussion to happen than for individuals to be terminated without that opportunity being present. So to your point, it’s not an automatic guarantee that you’re going to be able to draw unemployment, but at least you got a better chance of at least having that opportunity to present your case through the passage of this bill.
Griffin [00:30:20] Senator Hendren.
Hendren [00:30:25] Thank you, governor. So a couple of questions, Senator Hammer. First off, I want to tell you, I appreciate the transparency and the way that you’ve handled this bill– sending it back to committee, time for engrossment. I appreciate that because clearly you’re trying to make sure that there’s no shenanigans with regard to this, and I appreciate that. So a couple of things, one of the things that, whether it be an employer who’s going to provide a positive incentive or a mandate type incentive that is necessary is their ability to know the vaccination status of their employees and new hires. Is there anything in this bill that changes the ability of an employer to know the vaccination and to basically insist on verification of that status?
Hammer [00:31:09] No. In fact, I was reached out to by one employer who was trying to decide whether to lobby for or against this bill. He checked with– and it’s, it’s a big firm, OK? It’s not the names of the two that have been called out here on the floor today, but it is a large firm that employs a lot of people and they have a pretty ingenious incentive to try to get people to vaccinate. And so no, it would not, it would not interfere with that at all. I would like to say this on that point. Now take it for what it’s worth, because just tell you for what it’s worth. It would appear that people were voluntarily moving along with the idea of being vaccinated until such time the federal government got involved and started mandating it, and people started bowing up to it. And so I think that what this actually does is create incentive opportunity for employers to encourage people to continue to get vaccinated, but give those those, those employees the assurance that if you don’t, we’ve provided a pathway forward.
Hendren [00:32:16] And as an employer, would I still be able to have a policy that I am only hiring vaccinated new members? Or would that automatically make them eligible for unemployment because I rejected to hire them?
Hammer [00:32:27] I would stand to be corrected by anybody that would come behind me, but I don’t think it’s going to interfere with that. I would go back to Senator Rapert’s argument a while ago of what you can or cannot ask. I’m not really an expert in that area. My intent– I’ll tell you that– my intent is not to prohibit the employer from being able to ask that. I’m not sure how that would align with what Senator Rapert presented on the floor earlier.
Hendren [00:32:48] OK, and I do see that on Page 3, you put in the at will doctrine. And it’s a little bit, I would guess I would say, confusing to me because you change the at will doctrine with this bill and then you say, but we’re not changing that will doctrine. Because the fact is as an employer now, if somebody refuses to follow the policies of the company– whether it be uniform, whether it be requirements for masks in certain situations, whether it be the time of the shifts or whatever– that’s– an at will state, that’s grounds for termination. But you, you change that here to basically say we’re going to change the at will doctrine. You are not following the policies set forth by the company, but now that’s grounds for– that is not grounds for termination. Right?
Hammer [00:33:31] Well, I would say that’s a difference of opinion because that’s the reason we put it in there is to bring clarity with regards to the overall at will doctrine. And I think Senator Chesterfield or somebody mentioned that this morning about at will doctrine, are we changing the Constitution or are we changing the statute? I think we’re changing the statute. And this is more just for a point of clarification to be able to point in the bill and say it was not our intent to change the at will status, but it is our intent to expect employers to be able to include this in there like we do other things as well.
Hendren [00:34:05] OK, and then finally, I guess, you know, there are certain businesses, nursing homes, health care, at home, as Senator Ingram talked about– you have a business that goes into people’s homes, where the inability to say all of our staff is vaccinated is going to have a detrimental impact on their ability to be an ongoing entity moving forward and can potentially put them out of business. If you, if you are competing against somebody who’s going to go do home repair or in house visits against somebody who says, you don’t have to worry about our people, they’re 100 percent all vaccinated. Under this bill, that type of employer that wants to have that approach could not have that. Correct?
Hammer [00:34:51] I’m going to respond to the question this way. We’re not even certain that the vaccination now is 100 percent effective, and I think that would be misrepresentation of the fact because there are people that are fully vaccinated that are coming down with the virus. Granted, it’s a different mutation. I understand that. Granted, they’re working on the booster. I understand that. But for where we are right now, and that’s part of the reason why I put the sunset clause in there is because there is– this is such a changing landscape that there’s a lot of uncertainty. So with regards to the, the effectiveness of the argument that you’re making on the basis that the vaccine is 100 percent effective, I think, I think that is, that is not a– that’s a point I would respectfully disagree. The other thing is we’re not saying to those– we’re not saying to those employers, we’re just opening up to where you have an unsafe expectation. Because as I read a while ago from the CDC guidelines, the things that are represented in this bill are determined to be safe alternatives to vaccinations. And so I think by this passage of legislation we’re introducing to those employers who want that opportunity safe alternative measures other than the vaccination.
Hendren [00:36:04] Well, with respect, I think you kind of veered off onto the vaccination debate. And that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a business decision. For instance, if we have two airlines flying into Little Rock. One of them says, Come fly American Airlines, no worry about vaccinations. Now again, I’m not arguing whether it’s 100 percent effective or not. But I’m saying as a business strategy if a company says, if I come to your home, if you fly on our planes, we believe it will be better for our bottom line and for our employees if we have that ability to have that policy. This bill removes that and makes it where no company can say we are, we can assure you that everybody– whether you agree with vaccinations or not– but if a business chooses it, that’s the approach I want to take for marketing to my clientele, to this bill makes that impossible. Right?
Hammer [00:36:51] No, I disagree. And the reason I would is because what this bill is doing is creating the ability for you as an employer to say we have complied with state law. These are accepted guidelines by the CDC and the vaccination. We have opened it up to make sure that all the avenues provide a safe environment. If you, as an employer say that, that’s your choice as an employer. What probably would happen is that other airline is going to be able to hire away your employees to the same token. If we’re going to take that argument that you’re presenting, then everybody that gets on that plane needs to show a vaccination card to make sure that those people that are getting on the plane are not potentially infecting your employees.
Hendren [00:37:33] I mean, again, with respect, you’re not answering the question. It’s not about whether it’s smart, whether it’s medically proven, it’s about as a private company, if I want to take the approach to say that I have vaccinated all of my staff, everybody that works for me is 100 percent vaccinated because I may be coming into your homes or because I may be in a situation that’s– regardless, I’m not talking about whether it’s sound policy or not. I’m just saying that if that’s a marketing approach that I want to take, this bill makes that illegal, correct?
Hammer [00:38:04] I’m going to say correct, but it does not also preclude the fact that you have an opportunity to be just as confident in offering to the public that you’re marketing to, we have safe methods as approved by the CDC guidelines.
Hendren [00:38:19] Thank you.
Hammer [00:38:20] Thank you.
Griffin [00:38:20] Senator Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [00:38:23] Thank you. And thank you, Senator Hammer, for responding to the previous questions. I certainly appreciate that. Have two more. Does this bill preclude employers from instituting long term suspensions for those who do not take the vaccine? Because all it deals with is terminations.
Hammer [00:38:42] I think–
Chesterfield [00:38:43] If an employer decides that this individual creates a health hazard in my business, I want to put them on long term suspension without termination, there’s nothing that deals with this in this bill, is there?
Hammer [00:38:53] I don’t, I don’t think it does. That’s probably more to– I am going to speculate to Senator Johnson’s bill. But again, I’m going to say it, it doesn’t address that issue.
Chesterfield [00:39:05] Does it preclude an employer from– or an insurance company– I’m not as well versed in the insurance business as others– to provide a rider that would increase the cost to the employee who does not get the vaccine?
Hammer [00:39:21] Probably no more than the person that goes out and lives an alternate lifestyle or anything else that may drive up those employee health, employee costs as well, or any other, any other choice. But to your point, I’d like to make this observation. And that is– if I can find it quickly– if, if the insurance policy covers the cost of testing– I mean, it could be the– I mean, full disclaimer, it could be that the– it could be that the insurance company that’s, that’s carrying the health insurance policy would put that in there, we’re not going to cover testing, which I think is probably out there in the majority of them already.
Chesterfield [00:40:02] The majority of us have gotten our test for free, having sponsored testing sites across the poorest areas. Those tests have been given for free. If you have insurance, fine if you don’t. But the necessity of the test we have found does not create a cost if that person does not have insurance. So what I’m saying to you– asking you is I have seen– I have heard of riders being attached to insurance policies that blatantly increase the cost of insurance for the unvaccinated. Are you aware of some of those methods that are being used?
Hammer [00:40:37] Not firsthand.
Chesterfield [00:40:38] All right. Thank you.
Hammer [00:40:39] Thank you.
Griffin [00:40:40] Senator Beckham. I’m going to– I’ve got you on the list, Sen. Teague. And I’ll add you at the bottom of the list, Senator Johnson.
Beckham [00:40:47] Thank you. The– several, several other members who brought up the concern about the at will doctrine being challenged, even though it specifically says it will not. Do you think the whistleblower act violates the at will doctrine?
Hammer [00:41:09] I mean, you’re asking me a question that wasn’t even in my thought processes on– ask the question again. Let me process real quick.
Beckham [00:41:18] Do you– I’ll ask it a different way. Do you compare this similar to the whistleblower act as far as violations of the at will doctrine to prevent termination of–
Hammer [00:41:27] I wouldn’t–
Beckham [00:41:27]–an employee for–
Hammer [00:41:29] I wouldn’t think so.
Beckham [00:41:31] The, the second question I had was many members have brought up the unemployment insurance being funded by employers. I believe it was last year we put 165 million into that fund to shore it up. Is that correct? To keep it solvent.
Hammer [00:41:48] It was a significant amount and I haven’t checked the balance lately. Last time I checked, the balance was was north of 750 million, but that’s been a couple of months ago.
Beckham [00:41:57] Okay. Thank you.
Hammer [00:41:57] Thank you.
Griffin [00:41:59] Senator Rapert.
Rapert [00:42:03] Senator, I wanted to ask a question the other day on the unemployment insurance just to make it really clear here why are these protections need to be there. When asked, Workforce, Workforce Services actually responded when we asked them specifically, would someone be able to draw unemployment? He said only if they filed for a religious exemption or a medical exemption would they even be considered. Is that correct?
Hammer [00:42:32] I believe that’s correct.
Rapert [00:42:33] Thank you.
Griffin [00:42:35] Senator Teague and then Senator Johnson. Senator Teague.
Teague [00:42:39] Senator, I know you’re tired of being down there. I’ll be quick. So I have a couple text messages that indicate that– well, for Teague and Teague Insurance, I have three employees. Tracking, tracking testing, and that kind of thing wouldn’t be a big deal for Teague and Teague Insurance. Three people, not hard to keep up with. I don’t know how many people some of the bigger companies have working for them, but a bunch. So I assume there’s costs related to tracking all that and keeping up with that. So we’re going to take care of the employee, but we’re not going to take care of the company. Is that right?
Hammer [00:43:22] I don’t know I would agree with your interpretation of that because as soon as you were saying that I was thinking back to pre-vaccination era, they were having to do that anyway. And some are having to do that now. That cost was already imposed upon the employers by the federal government with. With regards to the, to the tracking, given the fact– and I’m going to use an example, 90 percent of the employees were already vaccinated. We’re talking about not a great number of individuals to be able to give that test to their employer.
Teague [00:44:02] Thank you. I just want to raise that point.
Hammer [00:44:04] Thank you.
Teague [00:44:04] And if– back to right to work or what do we call it– at will– if, if I’m an employee who chooses not to be vaccinated, it appears to me that the employer could fire me for not having my shoe tied. Am I wrong in that?
Hammer [00:44:28] I would say that as long as there’s not a state law saying that they can’t do that.
Teague [00:44:33] OK. Anyway, I appreciate it. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you.
Hammer [00:44:37] Thank you.
Griffin [00:44:38] Senator Blake Johnson.
B Johnson [00:44:41] Senator, I have a question and a follow up if that would be okay. CDC position on transmission if vaccinated, is their, is their position that you can transmit even if you’re vaccinated?
Hammer [00:44:58] Yes, sir.
B Johnson [00:44:59] OK. How valid is the argument for 100 percent vaccination if those folks can transmit just like the unvaccinated?
Hammer [00:45:12] I would subscribe to the idea that it’s not something that you need to be offering as 100 percent convincible evidence.
B Johnson [00:45:21] Thank you, Senator.
Hammer [00:45:22] Thank you.
Griffin [00:45:24] Sen. Clark, do you have a question or? Sen. Clark has a question.
Clark [00:45:32] I don’t believe this was asked. And Sen. Hammer, I don’t know if you have the answer to this. Senator Hendren was asking about companies who are wanting to advertise, market that all their employees are vaccinated, can we do that? Can we reveal our employees’ medical information in our marketing?
Hammer [00:46:01] Good point, I would say, I would say no. That’s kind of like you can’t go into a precinct if you have less than five because you’re going to identify who, who potentially could have voted what way. So subscribing to that same thought process, if you said 100 percent of your employees, you may have just violated the HIPAA guidelines.
Clark [00:46:24] Thank you.
Hammer [00:46:24] Thank you for that.
Griffin [00:46:25] Any other questions? Sen. Dismang is recognized to speak against.
Dismang [00:46:32] And so– and first, I want to say thank you. I mean, I know that you worked, worked hard on this. You worked through it. There were lots of conversations. There were lots of adjustments that I think should have been made that were made. And, and real quick, what I want to say also is I’m not down here to talk about vaccinations, if they work, if they don’t work. It doesn’t even really matter as far as this conversation goes. My biggest issue with this particular bill is that it does impact those employers with less than 100 employees. I mean, if we were truly just combating– I read a news story that said this is to combat the federal law or the federal rule that we still haven’t seen yet– then it would be just for those employers with more than 100 employees. It doesn’t do that. It goes well beyond that. You know, I think there was an original version that had that. I could be in support of because I could have said we were fighting the federal mandate or the coming federal mandate. You know, there are employers that don’t want these mandates in place. And here’s the thing about mandates and specifically as they relate to COVID. What I’ve seen time and time and time again is that the mandates have unintended consequences. We don’t get the results that we want with these. Right now, we’re talking about passing a bill that’s going to put this in process in place. And right now, there are conversations in every office in the state. Small business owners– these aren’t the big corporations that we keep trying to talk about– that are trying to decide what’s best to do for their own business. You know, they’re on the fence– should we, you know, require vaccinations, should we not? Probably got half my employees that say we do, half that say we don’t. We just gave them an out. If your whole goal is to not mandate vaccines, this is the wrong bill. Let me tell you why. You gave them an out. They’re going to now be able to mandate vaccines, and they’re going to be able to get the testing paid for. What employer’s not going to do that. We’re taking all the risk out for them. But if your goal is to not require vaccinations, I think this is wrongheaded. It’s very, very much like all the mandates that we’ve put on businesses, both state and federal alike. I went in Wal Mart the other day, there were more people without a mask mandate wearing a mask than there were during the mask mandate. Mandates have unintended consequences. And as it relates to COVID, over and over again get you the wrong response. The thing that’s lacked in all of this conversation as we talk about COVID is consistency. You know, there’s consistency and the CDC will cite this, they’re not doing it here, but they’re doing it somewhere else. I agree 100 percent. It drives me absolutely nuts. Every day I read the paper, there’s something that contradicts what was in the paper the day before. We all should be frustrated with that. But for me, as it relates to mandates, I will be consistent. I opposed the mandates early on. In fact, Senator Sullivan had a bill that– you know, there were mandates in place that required fines, right? I made a vote that those mandates have never been in place and those fines should be returned because I’m consistent. And I’m down here right now because we are injecting yet another mandate in between the employer and the employee. And I’m going to oppose it because I’m consistent. I’m against both state and federal mandates. Give me a bill that only deals with the federal mandate and I’ll be the first one to vote yes. That’s not what this bill does. This seeks to inject itself in between– and it could be a business of two. You could have a high risk– someone who just came out of chemo, whatever it may be, that’s the employer. And they can’t tell the employee to go get a vaccine because that’s what they believe. I’m not saying they’re right or wrong. I’m saying just what they believe. We are mobile. We have options. We talk about liberty. I’ve got the liberty to work for who and where I want. That’s my liberty. If I don’t like what my employer does, I’ve got the ability to say, You know what, we don’t agree. I’m going to move on, I’m going to do something different. Mandates are wrongheaded. I don’t think you’re going to get the outcome, if we pass this bill today, that you think you, think you are. I may be wrong. But I, again, tired of the inconsistencies that are out there will be consistent in my vote, and I will oppose the state and federal mandates.
Rapert [00:51:05] Yes. Well, I don’t particularly like that we’re going to demand testing. But they’re having an alternative. I frankly think that there should be no mandate whatsoever, period. I do like the fact that there is an opportunity for people in there that have antibodies that can be proven.
Dismang [00:51:26] Agreed.
Rapert [00:51:26] So my question is, given what you’ve stated, what would you vote for to protect the people of Arkansas and their individual liberty? Would you want to make an amendment where there is no testing required?
Dismang [00:51:39] What I wanted to do, if I were to do something, would make it address specifically the federal rules, which, by the way, we haven’t seen. But that’s what I think that we should have done if you’re asking me. And the sponsor is aware of that.
Rapert [00:51:52] But, and this is the final question on that. But we’re in a position–
Dismang [00:51:56] Oh, yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. If you’re asking me to remove– I wouldn’t vote for any of it because I think it’s an employee and employer relationship. I think that interjecting any of this is a mandate. So if you’re asking me if I would do away with testing? Absolutely, because I wouldn’t run the bill.
Rapert [00:52:13] Well, let me ask it another– try it again, because I’m listening to you. So what would you propose to protect the individual liberty of the people of Arkansas if you do not like this bill?
Dismang [00:52:29] Well, number one, again, people have liberty to move and change jobs and like their employer, not like their employer. So I will not interfere with that. I will never make an employee stay with an employer. If they don’t like each other, they don’t get along philosophically– I mean, I guarantee, knowing you, that there’s probably certain people and their beliefs that you would not want to work for one of your entities. Right? And you have that ability. You’re the employer. What I would say is I want those discussions to play out in the workforce amongst the employee and the employers in the free market. I’m a free markets conservative. I think most of us are. This isn’t free market.
Griffin [00:53:16] Senator Hendren and then Senator Sullivan, if you’ll take the questions.
Hendren [00:53:19] Thank you, governor. So, Senator Dismang, to the example you used, a small office with somebody who’s immunocompromised or whatever is the employer is very concerned about that person’s health. And the challenge, the problem I have with this legislation in particular is, if you look on Page 2, it says “shall provide a specific exemption process and it shall include…” We in the Legislature sit here and tell that small company how they deal with that specific situation. I mean, wouldn’t you agree that the situation at a person of– a company of two or three people may demand a better and more effective solution than one at a company of 50 or 75? And that’s why a conservative approach would be, Let’s stay out of it and let the companies address the issue in a way that’s more suited for their specific circumstance.
Dismang [00:54:10] Right. Again, it’s a conversation that should happen between– it’s happening right now everywhere in the state of Arkansas. The vast majority of businesses have had this discussion or having this discussion. And the vast majority don’t want to mandate vaccines and will not mandate vaccines. That may be– I mean, every day when you wake up and you’re a business owner, it’s about risk and reward, and is one worth the other.
Hendren [00:54:32] And again, to your question–
Dismang [00:54:32] And then we’re dictating, in my opinion, what the employee is willing– or the employer is willing to take on as risk. And we can debate all day long in this room whether they’re effective, not effective. It doesn’t even really matter. I mean, there’s personally held beliefs on this at this point, and most of them are just opinions.
Hendren [00:54:51] Thank you.
Griffin [00:54:53] Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [00:54:56] Thank you, Mr. President. So you’ve referenced a few times the federal mandate. There is none.
Dismang [00:55:00] There is not one yet. That’s correct.
Sullivan [00:55:03] Okay. So you, when you reference– when you said you would support one that dealt with the federal mandate, we don’t know what that is and everything that you’re saying is conjecture.
Dismang [00:55:14] Exactly.
Sullivan [00:55:15] And the states authorize the federal government. We’re the ones that created the federal government, not the other way around. So is it not in our best interest to take a proactive approach with a sunset to the bill that this has because we are in a critical situation with people who don’t have the ability right now to find a new job as has been suggested. So do you not think this is a good idea to, for us to create guidance for the federal government, which is really unusual that states take that position? Is that not a good idea, given we sunset this?
Dismang [00:55:53] Yeah, but I also would want to be able to respond in real time to what that rule and reg is going to look like, which we don’t know at this point. And again, just to circle it all the way back, this is not about the federal mandate.This bill goes well beyond the federal mandate in trying to cure whatever issue may arise for a company of 100 or more people, which is what the federal rule will be. We do know that part. For those below, we’re telling them how it’s going to be and what they’re going to do in their workplace. And then that part for me, again, that’s a new mandate. That’s not the federal mandate– you know, federal government mandating something. It’s the state government mandating how business is going to operate. And they’re going– we’re going to be the ones, the arbiter of what is risk. You know, how much risk are we willing to take?
Sullivan [00:56:41] Thank you.
Griffin [00:56:43] Senator Garner speaking in favor.
Garner [00:56:48] Thank you, governor. Now, I struggled with this thought process that as a free market conservative, could I support a bill like this? And so when I started doing my examination of how we operate at businesses in the state of Arkansas, I started looking from that lens is, can I support something like this that generally I wouldn’t. First thing is what I mentioned to Senator Dismang earlier is that we add protected classes all the time at the federal government. The Civil Rights Act added multiple protections for age, for sex, for race. The ADA added protections for those who may have disabilities. Senator Beckham mentioned the Whistleblower Act. You’re not allowed to fire somebody if they legitimately whistleblow against a company. Now, I start looking at accommodations similar to how these testings will happen. And how through the ADA, even if you have a two person business like Senator Hendren had described, you must put a wheelchair ramp to be accessible underneath the current law we have. We have multiple other regulations that we put on our businesses, whether it’s minimum wage law, whether it’s protection laws. So I didn’t think it violated some ironclad principle. But generally I probably still wouldn’t support this if it wasn’t for the 18 months that we had before. Sen. Dismang messaged consistency. And I look at what this body has responded to in the last 18 months, and I wonder if those free market principles still hold true. Now this isn’t me prescribing moral judgment to any decisions we made as a body or any business that may have wanted to take in the benefits we got. But we’ve got to really look and see if we’re, if we’ve been operating like a free market conservative. We have authorized millions of dollars to businesses across this states, from PPE equipment to personal loans to other things as last time. Give you the best example of this, I can see is that, right now we’ve heard many people in the healthcare industry testify how they’re going to lose their jobs. And it’s heartbreaking. These were last year’s heroes, Superman, Wonder Woman, men and women who went on the front lines every single day, and now they’re faced with a personal medical choice to lose their job, careers they’ve had for years. And we say that’s a free market principle to allow them to be fired. But this body gave $145 million to hospitals specifically for the purpose of staffing, retention and recruitment. Now you want a market, free market. If they were to fire somebody, they would run into these ironclad principles like retention and having to retrain somebody, losing that experience, having the marketplace try to suck up that worker and be a competitor. But this body has interjected itself in that decision making process. Think about it. You are now subsidized to fire that person and have millions of dollars to retrain, rehire because the federal government– I mean the state government has given you the taxpayers’ dollars. That’s not a free market principle. We’ve shut down businesses, restricted how they can operate during this pandemic. That’s not a free market principle. Now, once again, I’m not prescribing moral judgment on those decisions. I would support most of them in the moment. There may be quibbles here and there. We needed to save our businesses with PPP loans, which they got from the federal government. We needed to help them out, but it’s– we stand here today and now we say, No, no, no, no. When it’s going to affect the employee instead of the employer, we need to stay out of it. And I just have to go back to this point. The federal government is coming down– it’s more than the 100 employees, Sen. Dismang. If you take Medicare and Medicaid and you have under 100 employees, you have to do it. If you’re a federal contractor, which in my district is huge– I got a text today to say that they are now going to mandate for Air Jet and all those– oh, let me take that back– for some of the defense contractors companies– be clear, my specific– are going to have to get the vaccination. So it’s more than just as 100 people employees. And I guess it hinges on this question. Do you trust Joe Biden to hold to that 100 people? Joe Biden six months ago said he cannot mandate employee vaccinations in multiple interviews and multiple things. That’s words from his mouth. Kamala Harris, vice president, said that as well. But yet we sit here today and they have violated every promise they had made in multiple interviews. What comes tomorrow from the federal government? Let me finish with this point. We talk about the supremacy clause. Have you all read it? Do you understand it? The Supremacy Clause says that federal laws are superior in the land. And I agree with that principle and think that most court cases support as long as the federal government has access to those states through some other means, Commerce Clause or anything else, they can be the superior law of the land. I don’t remember a law being passed on this at the federal government, do you? I think it’s an executive order, which I’ve tried to read on the federal registry saying that this is coming down. But I don’t even know if it’s on there yet. He’s taking a government agency and expanding the power in ways that are frankly disrespectful, incomprehensive, and disastrous to the concept of federalism. And he’s doing it and saying, I dare you to do something. Now, federal law does trump, but executive orders, regulations from agencies, there’s multiple cases where state government’s law trumps that. If we don’t pass something today, we’re out of the fight. You are forfeiting before you take the first step to fight the federal government. Sen. Dismang mentioned court cases. Yes, the attorney general is suing on multiple fronts. I think this will be unconstitutional on multiple fronts. But we as legislators don’t have a say in that. We really don’t. Unless you’re a private citizen that sues, you don’t. You know what we have a say in? Creating a conflict between state law and an executive order that the same person that issued it said it wasn’t allowed just a few months ago. We create this today, we create the ability to have that fight at a different level of the court. And we add the ability to add that protection for people. And I don’t know about you, I didn’t come up here not to fight for that. I didn’t come up here to let Joe Biden push me around. I came up here to fight for the people of Arkansas and the thousands of them that will be hurt and disenfranchised and not have jobs and not have funding once we do this. Because that’s the reality. We have a nurses shortage right now, and you’re talking about reducing our nurses. In New York, 17 percent of their nurses were fired. What does that do to our health care and ICU situation? Supply lines? Try going to your local deli and try to get some meat. See how that works out. We’re going to kill that even more. At some point, we have to stand up and stand up for the other principles that make a conservative. And to me, standing up for people and their ability to work is the most important thing we can do at this time. And I thank you.
Sturch [01:03:58] Senator Garner. Senator Garner’s left the well. Anyone to speak against the bill? Senator Garner spoke for. Senator Elliott, you’re recognized to speak against the bill.
Elliott [01:04:16] My comments are as much for people as probably more so than being against this bill. Because everything we have talked about during this session has been about the people who have not and do not want to get the vaccination. I just feel compelled to say something on behalf of the people who have stood up to try to maintain the social contract we used to have with each other. The social contract that said, there was something about the common good and the real reality that just as surely as the people who are not getting the vaccination are concerned about what might happen to them, there are a million of us who are going to work and doing what we should do.And there are people within that group who are concerned that they might go to work and catch COVID because of the people who do not get vaccinated. That’s a real thing for people. It may be the parents who have kids at home who can’t get vaccinated because we don’t have it available to them. Or kids who are compromised, and I have to go to work– I may be that single mother. I have to show up at work because I, too, have to take care of my kids. But there’s a real good possibility that I might be taking care of my kids and bringing something home to them from work because of people who did not get vaccinated. There are just two sides of this. This is not a one sided thing. I don’t consider them equivalent. But there are two. I want to say something on behalf of the person who has to go to the doctor or has to go to the hospital and you have to be treated by some doctor, some nurse or whoever who has chosen not to be vaccinated. Those people matter too. So I know that’s not going to change the outcome of this bill. I get that. But I do not want the millions who are sitting out there thinking we don’t see them, too. That what happens to their kids, too, matters. To what happened to somebody who is compromised and has to walk into the grocery store and be exposed to people who work there who won’t get vaccinated and might have COVID. The person like me who might have just one kidney, and if something happens to one of those– because I have to go somewhere and I do. I have to do transactions just like everybody in here. My chances of getting COVID from somebody who’s not vaccinated are great. I don’t get options, though, about getting another kidney. And there are not people lined up to say, here, take mine. In the name of our freedoms, people have should have the freedom to be safe. Their families should have the freedom to be safe. And we’re not going to come to agree on this. But I do want to make sure that people out there know they’ve done the right thing. They matter, too. They matter, too, and the social contract matters. I was not allowed to go into a school historically, history that has been forgotten. I had to prove that I did not have tuberculosis. Now, do you think if my test had proven to be positive that somebody was going to let me come back, come into a school and teach their kids? God, I hope not. It was not my freedom to go and do that. So that’s because we did things for one another. The social compact. It is on life support, I get that. But I just want to say to you, people who have taken the vaccine, thank you. You did it for yourself and you did it for others. People on the other side, whatever happens with this bill happens, but it looks as if you’re going to get to be the ones who are going to dictate what happens in this body today. I’m really sorry about that. I wish there was a better way. I wish we would just all do everything we can to help each other. Thanks.
Sturch [01:09:32] Sen. Elliott has spoken against the bill. Anyone to speak for? Senator Rapert, you’re recognized to speak for the bill.
Rapert [01:09:38] Thank you, Mr. President. First of all, on the bill itself and I talked with Senator Hammer about this, one thing that’s important for me on this bill is that if an employer chooses not to actually mandate vaccines in their business, then according to what I see that they are under no obligation also to require the testing as well. So that’s a, that’s a good thing. Because I can see how that the testing could be onerous. I will say– let me say before I respond to a couple of things and make three brief points. Ben Franklin said any society that would give up a little liberty to gain temporary security will deserve neither and will lose both. This was at a time when they faced pandemics. This is at a time when they face diseases. This is at a time also when they knew exactly what it was like to live under despots and people that demand things that were unnecessary. I think what I want to say in response to some of the comments here is what about the people, I wonder, that went out to get the vaccine and they were trying to do the right thing, and then they got sick anyway. And then also, we know that by the data and the science that they’re now telling this that those same people who took the vaccine can also spread that. So when it’s, when it is uttered from the well, thank you to those that got the vaccine, but what about us didn’t even have a chance for the vaccine and got sick before a vaccine was ever available to us who was wearing the masks on this Senate floor and sitting behind these barriers and, and, and distancing from people? Haven’t been able to hug my grandmother for months. What about thanks to us that did all of these things? Oh, and by the way, when I was hospitalized, let’s think about the science then. At that time, hydroxychloroquine and budesonide inhalers was the only option that we saw that was working. And guess what, when I went into the hospital to ask for it, when they finally told me that I had it and by the way, I had a negative test. That’s the reason I sat at home and got sicker and sicker and developed COVID pneumonia, and then was hospitalized. They said, No, senator, you’re going to take remdesivir. You don’t even hear people bringing up remdesivir hardly any more. You don’t even hear it. That’s because the science has changed. And that’s what I keep trying to proclaim out here is this thing is changing. It’s moving. So why don’t we spend all the time caring for people and trying to help those that are sick instead of blaming? It is, it is absolutely wrong to try to blame somebody over here for this pandemic. There’s too much to go into about it, so I’m not going to go further on that. But I say I reject the notion. It is not the fault of my neighbor or my friend and an employer somewhere that somebody got sick. No more than it is if they get the flu, no more than it is if they get pneumonia or anything else. And to be clear, the same medical experts who are demanding government and employer mandates be used to force vaccinations right now, let me see, these are the same voices that also urged churches to be closed, said we couldn’t sing in our churches, businesses to be closed, and once told us not to wear masks. Do you remember that? Fauci said don’t wear masks. It’s not needed. Oh, then, he pivoted. Now this is the same voices. They also happen to be just in case any of us forget about these voices that care so much for us. These are the same voices that say that it’s perfectly humane and OK to kill an innocent baby in a mother’s womb. Yeah, same voices. They’re the same voices that told us a few months ago that you could turn a little boy, sexually change a little boy into a little girl, even though that’s completely impossible. All the same voices. I don’t like this debate, but doing nothing right now is capitulating to Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Dr. Fauci and even our own Arkansas version of Dr. Faucis that are out here, right? As for liberty and the understanding of it, I’ll take Ben Franklin and our founding fathers over Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and Dr. Fauci any day. I’m going to stand here today and I’m going to vote to protect individual liberty. Liberty now, liberty today and liberty forever.
Sturch [01:14:47] Senator Rapert has spoken for the bill. Is there anyone else who wishes to speak for or against the bill? Anyone else who wish to speak for or against the bill? Senator Hammer, you’re recognized to close for your bill.
Hammer [01:14:57] Thank you. I think pretty much everything that needs to be said has been said or been addressed. I just want to close with this comment based on some that were made today. The comment was made about going to see your doctor and about the concerns about other people who might be in there. A couple of things that I picked up on that point is, I want you to remember this, I’ve got a letter which I won’t read for length– because of the length of time it would take to read it. But a doctor who is going to be terminated because he won’t receive the vaccination, even though he’s been on the frontline of this ordeal since it was the beginning. And now this doctor, if he doesn’t take the vaccine, is going to be terminated. So with regards to being concerned, good luck finding a medical provider. We’re already a state that doesn’t have enough medical providers, and now we’re about to take out a whole nother layer of medical providers. And the ironic point of that is, not only good luck finding a doctor or a provider, but also if you’re visiting a doctor that hasn’t taken the vaccine, that ought to tell you something. That ought to tell you something right there. Please, not from the gallery. Thank you, though. But that, that ought to tell you something right there. Somebody said it’s not– the debate’s not about the vaccine. It is about the vaccine. It is about the virus. Or we wouldn’t be here having this discussion. This is providing a reasonable common sense, balance beamed approach to dealing with a situation. And remember, there is an emergency clause or there is an emergency clause that, if not passed, people are going to lose their jobs. It’s already hard enough to find employees. Why do you want to get rid of the ones that are willing to work? Think about that. Thank you.
Sturch [01:16:48] Senator Hammer’s closed for his bill. We’ll now take up Senate Bill 739 and its emergency clause. Madam Secretary, please call the roll.
Cornwell [01:16:56] Ballinger, yes. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, yes. Chesterfield, no. Clark, yes. Davis, yes. Dismang, no. Eads, no. Elliott, no. English, English. Flippo, yes. Flowers. Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer, yes. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, no. Hill, yes. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, no. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague, no. Tucker, no. Wallace, yes. [21 yes, 12 no, 2 not voting]
Griffin [01:18:15] Cast up the ballot. I don’t know if you got her or not. I don’t think so, Senator English. Senator English said aye, but you already.– I think you clicked it. Yeah, I know, just making sure so I can inform them. She had already cast up Senator English. 21 yeas. 12 nays. The bill passed. The emergency clause fails.
Hammer [01:18:44] Mr President, I’d like to make a motion that we expunge the vote by which the emergency clause failed, not the bill. Am I procedurally correct? I’d like to make a motion to expunge the vote by which the emergency portion of the bill failed, please.
Griffin [01:19:02] You’ve heard the motion. Any questions? All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Ayes have it. The motion, the failed motion– the vote, the vote is expunged. I thought you’d be back.
Hammer [01:19:23] Yeah, thank you. I’d like to make a motion to revote the emergency clause.
Griffin [01:19:28] You’ve heard the motion. Motion is to revote the emergency clause. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Ayes have it. Please call the roll on the emergency clause.
Cornwell [01:19:44] Ballinger, yes. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe, Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, yes. Chesterfield, no. Clark, yes. Davis, yes. Dismang, no. Eads, no. Elliott, no. English. English. Flippo, yes. Flowers. Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer, yes. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, no. Hill, yes. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, no. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague. Tucker, no. Wallace, yes. [21 yes, 11 no, 3 not voting]
Cornwell [01:20:50] Anyone with to change their vote? Senator Teague is aye. Senator English is aye. Anyone else? Cast up the ballot. 23 yeas, 11 nays, the emergency clause fails.
Hammer [01:21:01] Mr President, I’d like to make a motion to expunge the vote by which the emergency bill or clause failed. But I’ll not bring it back up today, but I’d like to make a motion to expunge that vote.
Griffin [01:21:12] You heard the motion to expunge the vote by which emergency clause failed. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. The– it needs 24. Noes have it. Five hands. Please call the roll. This is on the expungement of the emergency clause a second vote, which requires 24.
Cornwell [01:21:55] Ballinger, yes. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe, Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, yes. Chesterfield, no. Clark, yes. Davis, yes. Dismang, Dismang. Eads, yes. Elliott, no. English, English. Flippo, yes. Flowers, Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer, yes. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, no. Hill, yes. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, no. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague. Tucker, no. Wallace, yes. [22 yes, 9 no, 4 not voting]
Griffin [01:23:01] Anyone wish to vote or change their vote? Senator English, aye. Senator Dismang, no. Cast up the ballot. 23 yays. 10 nays. The motion to expunge the second failed vote on the emergency, on the emergency clause failed. Senator Garner, Bill number two out of three. SB 730 as amended and engrossed.
Cornwell [01:23:30] Senate Bill 730 by Senator Garner to amend the Division of Workforce Services Law to authorize unemployment benefits for an individual who is terminated solely due to a refusal to be vaccinated against COVID 19 and declare an emergency.
Griffin [01:23:46] Senator Garner.
Garner [01:23:46] Thank you. This is a very simple, clean bill. The only thing it does is add an exemption, which we have multiple exemptions within our unemployment law as such, and that if you’re fired specifically for a COVID 19 refusal of vaccination, that you’ll be covered under the traditional unemployment. It doesn’t access any federal funds. It works as we have worked under this system since 1935 in the state of Arkansas for unemployment. And it allows that if somebody tries to play games to say it’s some misconduct or something as well, they will be protected. So as we stated earlier, there’s probably confusion of whether this will be allowed anyway under existing law, as Senator Rapert said. They said if you did apply for exemption, you probably could get it. This just clarifies for thousands Arkansans as they make that choice that they can access those benefits that their labor helped pay for. With that, I’ll take any questions.
Griffin [01:24:32] Any questions for Senator Garner? Senator Hendren.
Hendren [01:24:36] Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. So Senator Garner, this, this cost is going to be borne by the employers, employers then, correct?
Garner [01:24:42] They use the labor that their employees do to pay for that and the profit they make off of that will go toward it.
Hendren [01:24:47] So for the companies that have more than 100 employees that are going to likely be mandated by the federal government to implement a mandate, they’re going to have to do that and also have to pay unemployment for anyone who chooses not to participate? So their rates will go up and it’ll be more– higher rates for the entire company.
Garner [01:25:07] Well, if the federal government does do that, then we do need an unemployment system in place to make sure we protect those people that would be unemployed, just like we have for thousands of other issues that apply yearly with our unemployment system.
Hendren [01:25:18] Thank you.
Griffin [01:25:20] Any other questions? Senator Tucker and then Senator Pitsch.
Tucker [01:25:25] Thank you, Governor. Senator, we’ve made several adjustments over the last several years, either to benefits, unemployment benefits for Arkansas workers where we lower them because there’s not enough money in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Or, as Senator Beckham pointed out, we took $165 million in federal money to put into the trust fund last year. It’s because there’s a direct relationship between the amount of money in the trust fund, how much employers pay in, and how much benefits workers are eligible for. And to your point, which I agree with, I’m not so sure that, that the people wouldn’t be protected under this any– under the existing law without making this change. But that point aside, do you have any knowledge or awareness of how this will change the number of employees who might be making a claim, an unemployment claim as a result of this? Do we need to– is there an accompanying appropriation to put more money into the unemployment insurance trust fund? Are we changing benefits up or down or raising taxes in any other way to accommodate for, for the difference in the financial impact on all of this?
Garner [01:26:30] Well, I think that it would be completely unquantitatable about how many people would be let go because of the either federal mandate or just a general pressure if for the next month and a half, assuming our bill passes, we don’t have those protections in place. So I could not qualify that. What I can qualify, though, is I believe it will be thousands of Arkansans who I would say, generally, but not universally, are good, hardworking people that worked their whole lives, who paid into it. Many of them probably never access unemployment benefits before. And I think that having that protection in place and not adding any additional benefits is something that they should get as they make this transition from their jobs, especially if it comes from the federal government. The thought that we would allow Joe Biden to fire through a policy thousands of Arkansans and just tell them, you’re out of luck, I think that’s a terrible policy in place, will have incredibly bad social, economic and other strains on our system.
Tucker [01:27:27] Just to make sure I’m understanding you correctly. We don’t know what the financial impact of this would be. And there is no counterpart proposal to account for that at this time. Is that right?
Garner [01:27:36] I think you’re asking an impossibility. And I don’t want to speculate on something. If it’s 10,000 employees. I mean, New York’s obviously a bigger state, but 89,000 of its nurses were just let go. Arkansas obviously doesn’t have that same amount. But if you’re looking at the same kind of numbers, especially in our nursing homes, which could be shut down because of this mandate and other things, I think it’s a real concern we have to do for our fellow Arkansans. And like I said, this system has been in place since 1930s. It’s– I don’t think anybody in this body wants to abolish that system. It’s just allowing those benefits to be accessed at this time.
Tucker [01:28:09] Thank you.
Griffin [01:28:10] Senator Hammer has a question and then Senator Chesterfield.
Hammer [01:28:15] Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. Businesses that maybe don’t want to force vaccine on their employees but are going to be mandated to force vaccine upon their employees are going to be, my word, punished to the same level of employers that voluntarily forced mandates upon their employers or not. Is that a correct–?
Garner [01:28:39] Well, I think that anybody that is fired for COVID related reasons for failing to get a vaccine, they’ll be able to access those benefits. I guess I’m just– I understand that rates increase, but I just don’t see it as a punishment to have people access finds that their labor paid into for years. I just I don’t like the word of punishment associated with that when these are people who just want to access basic government benefits that they help pay into for years.
Hammer [01:29:04] But do employees in the state of Arkansas pay into the unemployment fund or is that the sole responsibility of the employer to pay into the unemployment fund?
Garner [01:29:13] The employers’ labor and what they do that generates the money that the employee– excuse me, the employee labor generates the money that the employer then pays into the trust fund.
Hammer [01:29:23] Thank you.
Griffin [01:29:25] Senator Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [01:29:28] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, Senator Garner, for taking my questions. Could you tell me now–
Griffin [01:29:33] One second. [Gavel] Go right ahead.
Chesterfield [01:29:38] Thank you so much. Mine is a simple question that does not really require bombast. Could you tell me what people make who draw unemployment on a weekly basis.
Garner [01:29:51] That is a good question. I know it was– I want to throw it around $300, but don’t hold me to that number. I think that’s the amount they would get. Obviously, this isn’t– and we set it up this way, I think, intentionally and smartly not to be something that you can live on long term. It’s supposed to be a supplement so you can buy basic necessities like food or other things during this time.
Chesterfield [01:30:10] It’s like $345 a week, is that right?
Garner [01:30:12] I believe so, before the PUA was [unintelligible]
Chesterfield [01:30:14] Ok, that’s what I needed to know. Thank you.
Griffin [01:30:16] Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [01:30:19] Thank you. How is your bill different from Senator Hammer’s bill? It has an unemployment clause in it. So how does this further or conflict with that?
Garner [01:30:29] Yeah, I’ve looked at it. The language is almost exactly the same. There’s a couple of changes. One, his has– and Sen. Hammer, correct me if I’m wrong– there’s kind of a tiered system where it goes through federal funds first and then state employees kind of the backdrop or bottom of that. And his section, I don’t believe, is in the exemption section of our law and in his under– new amendment, he also cut out Section 3, which had to deal with the misconduct angle within our unemployment law. That is no longer in his bill, from my understanding. This still keeps that whole so that– I don’t want to say the business will do that, but you may have an example they say, Well, he’s– this person is failing to get vaccination. They’re, they’re– through an employee misconduct, we’re going to fire them. That’s a kind of a maybe a way they can work around it. This ensures that it stays in place.
Sullivan [01:31:15] Okay, and kind of on a different topic. Were you aware that in testimony, DFA– in committee the other day, DFA made a prediction on what the cost for unemployment or for testing might be? We asked for that data on how many people would qualify. We asked DFA to turn in that number. So you’ve been asked several times to estimate how many people that would be. DFA was asked for that number. They were asked for it. They already had the calculation. We were asked for their calculation data and they did not give that to us. Were you aware of that?
Garner [01:31:54] I am aware of DFA amazingly finding a real high number if it’s a policy they don’t support and a real low number if they do support that policy.
Sullivan [01:32:01] Thank you.
Griffin [01:32:18] Senator Hendren.
Hendren [01:32:21] Thank you, governor. So did I hear you correctly when you were up previously with regard to the size of this problem, that 70 percent of the nurses in New York have been fired?
Garner [01:32:30] [01:32:30]I said 16 percent. I believe from the number I saw, that’s 89,000 nurses is the number I saw from a report.
Hendren [01:32:37] 89,000 nurses have been fired because of failure to take the vaccine in New York?
Garner [01:32:42] I believe that was the number I saw. Obviously, I mean, that’s some of the data I saw. I saw in other ones, I think there’s compliance of like 20 percent in some other industries. I’m just trying to think through different stats I’ve seen on this number. [11.0s]
Hendren [01:32:54] Thanks.
Griffin [01:33:00] OK. All right. Any other questions for the senator? Senator Hill.
Hill [01:33:08] Senator Garner, this being an unemployment bill that we’re referring to here, is this going to encourage people to not work and to use this exemption in their favor with the strained workforce that we currently have already? You’ve alluded to people not taking the vaccine, but people taking advantage of this now? We’ve seen people being off work a long time already and keep begging them to go back to work. Are you not throwing another incentive for people to not go back to work?
Garner [01:33:33] I would strongly push back against that, Sen. Hill, as a friend.
Hill [01:33:36] Please do, I want to hear it.
Garner [01:33:38] You can always create problems in the system that, that could be abused, for sure. But considering how contentious this issue is, considering how it’s such a hot-button issue and how many people legitimately have to go through multiple processes just before they’re fired, I mean, even employees now that are putting these mandates in place, usually there’s a process to and fire them when they go through multiple steps. The idea that people will be able to abuse that over, across the system, I don’t [unintelligible] fair because there’s going to be a process within those businesses before they terminate this person. Assuming that Senator Hammer bill passes or not pass, whatever happened with that. So I just don’t see the reality of this being an issue where large abuse will occur. I think it’s much more likely that this will be an issue of legitimate use of that, the funds. And more importantly, we have multiple investigatory powers for unemployment currently in place that precludes people from be able to abuse it on that front. That’s probably the distinction between this and, say, the PUA, which was much more broader in its ability to give that and I actually know good people who signed up for unemployment for the first time, who had fraud claims hit against them and had to fight that at the workforce services. So I don’t think the system– I think the system is in place that will prevent any kind of massive fraud. In fact, I think this system will just kind of clarify what is probably going to happen anyway.
Griffin [01:34:52] Senator Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [01:34:57] Just one more question, in addition to getting 300 a week, how long can they get that 300 a week?
Garner [01:35:02] It’s whatever the current thing– current time length you have for unemployment. Somebody texted me and said the minimum is $151. Maximum is $451. Don’t know if that’s true, but I trust the source. And then I know it’s up to two months. Four months. I have to double check the unemployment law.
Chesterfield [01:35:17] I just want to make sure that people understand they’re not going to get what they were making, probably on their jobs. Because the minimum is 145. The Max is what, 345?
Garner [01:35:25] I had 451, but that’s–
Chesterfield [01:35:27] 451 and they are limited in how long they can get that unemployment.
Garner [01:35:32] All the processes we’ve put in place for unemployment, nothing changes except–
Chesterfield [01:35:35] All right, I just wanted to see.
Garner [01:35:37] exemptions. Yes, ma’am.
Griffin [01:35:40] Anyone wish to speak against the bill? Senator Dismang.
Dismang [01:35:51] Before I speak against the bill, I just want to provide a little bit of clarification. Unemployment is solely paid by the employer. There is no employee contribution and we can try to massage around that and talk about it’s based on the labor of the profits created. But if I’m an employer and I’m not making money and I have employees, that comes out of my pocket. Or I go out, I take a note, I’ll do whatever I have to to make that unemployment claim. So that is, that is not an actor characterization of how that works, you know, in the workforce. But I would say just on this bill on its face, this is going to impact all employers, those that choose to implement a policy, those that choose to not implement a policy. Whatever it may be, everyone has the potential to be impacted. Because once you jeopardize the solvency of the trust fund, then, then you’re talking about changing either weeks that are paid, the amounts paid or the total amount paid by employers contributing to the fund. So it has, it can have the potential to impact all of those, even the folks that, you know, again, don’t require vaccination, will never require vaccination. In just one more thing to play into the conversation, you know, this is going to be the result or has the potential to be the result of the mandates that we’re talking about placing on employers right now in the state of Arkansas. Yet one more unintended consequence, I believe, of mandates. With that, I’d, yeah.
Griffin [01:37:12] Senator Hendren has a question for Senator Dismang.
Hendren [01:37:15] Yeah,Senator Dismang, I appreciate your comments because I believe you were here when the Unemployment Trust Fund was upside down about $700 or $800 million and you worked very hard over several years to get it solvent again. And so, and as that solvency declines because of additional claims driven by mandates and requirements for testing and everything else, do we risk finding ourselves right back in the same situation where Senator Chesterfield, we made some hard decisions about length of time, how of pay out and other things to try to make that fund solvent. Are we going to find ourselves potentially right back in the same hole?
Dismang [01:37:51] I don’t think any of us know, but I think it definitely has the potential to do that.
Hendren [01:37:55] Thank you.
Griffin [01:37:57] Senator Hammer.
Hammer [01:38:00] I ask you the question. If you don’t know the answer, maybe the sponsor can. With us having just passed out 739, you know, it doesn’t have the emergency clause. At a time in the future, if somebody is terminated because the employer did not follow what 739 requires–
Dismang [01:38:18] The mandate.
Hammer [01:38:20] –they would be eligible for unemployment.
Dismang [01:38:25] Correct.
Hammer [01:38:27] Because–
Dismang [01:38:27] I mean, that’s what my assumption–
Hammer [01:38:27] Well, it could be.
Dismang [01:38:28] It depends how this bill goes also. I mean, I believe there’s emergency clause and, and that sort of thing. So I think, I guess they would work together in one area. I mean, we are passing bills that have overlaps and similarities, and I don’t know how all that’s going to work, which portions are going to take precedent, which ones not. That’s not my, you know, I didn’t review it those ways– that way for y’all.
Hammer [01:38:49] Follow up, Mr. President. Help my memory. And if you were in the committee, I don’t remember. But it seemed like about six weeks ago, we had the Department of Commerce in a committee meeting. And it– maybe it was in Rules. And the question was asked, if people are terminated because of failure to take the vaccine, would they be able to draw unemployment. And somebody else may be in the chamber remembers, but it seems like I distinctly remember they said yes. Do you remember that or not?
Dismang [01:39:14] I was not in that committee meeting.
Hammer [01:39:16] All right. Thank you.
Griffin [01:39:20] The senator spoke against. Senator– anyone wish to speak in favor? Senator Rapert.
Rapert [01:39:29] Members, I am in favor– in favor, obviously, of this bill and the other bills that are protecting Arkansas citizens. As it relates to unemployment, that statement that was made in our committee was that if the employee actually opted for a religious exemption or a medical exemption, they would qualify. They warned everyone in that situation that if they did not request those that they would probably not qualify for unemployment. So I stand in favor of supporting this bill to do whatever we can to protect individual liberty for Arkansans.
Griffin [01:40:09] Senator Hammer.
Hammer [01:40:10] Is it your– having been in that committee, is it your understanding, then, if a employee requests those– or, let’s say Senator Johnson’s bill finishes the course and that’s added to it, if they request that and the employer denies them for whatever reason, and then they get terminated, that that would, that would allow them to draw unemployment. Is that your understanding or could you–
Rapert [01:40:36] They said that would allow them to do a case by case analysis. Right? But they did say that if there was no exemptions that were requested, they would not be able to draw unemployment is what they stated.
Hammer [01:40:50] All right, thank you.
Rapert [01:40:51] Yeah.
Griffin [01:40:53] And Senator English.
English [01:40:56] Thank you.
Griffin [01:40:57] If Senator Rapert will take–
English [01:41:01] I think we need to be real clear. People can apply. It doesn’t mean that they’re guaranteed for anybody who, who wants to get unemployment for whatever reason. People can apply, but that does not necessarily mean after they’ve went through the process that they will be OK. There’s no guarantee. I just hate to mislead people out in the general public that all you have to do is go and apply and you’re going to get unemployment. That’s just not true. It doesn’t happen that way.
Rapert [01:41:31] I didn’t say that.
English [01:41:32] No, but that’s the perception that we keep pushing out there is that all anybody has to do then is they lose their job, they go up and, and can get unemployment benefits. No, they have to go and apply, and they may or may not be deemed to be able to get those things. So I just don’t want to mislead people.
Rapert [01:41:54] And if it is that I agree or not, I agree. We don’t want to mislead people. I’ll restate it because it is very important because we came back in committee and made a very direct question when they were talking about the exemptions. And he said if they did not actually request an exemption and they were fired, they would probably not be able to draw. But he said if they had made an exemption request whether religious or whether medical and then were fired subsequently, then they would take it on a case-by-case basis to see what the facts were in the situation. And I think it’s very important that we, we do understand that. Thank you for the question, Senator.
Griffin [01:42:36] The Senator spoke for. Senator Chesterfield’s going to speak against.
Chesterfield [01:42:45] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think I’m going to speak more on it. Senator English has made a part of my argument. I do not want the people of this state to quit their jobs and make $145 a week. I don’t want them to quit their jobs because most of them make more than $450 a week. If that amount is going to be increased, then perhaps we have a conversation worth having. But to quit your job to be poor makes no sense. Because people today cannot live off $145 a week. You can’t live about $450 a week in most instances. And so I want that to be understood. If you– even if you get unemployment, it’s not a whole lot. Thank you.
Griffin [01:43:42] The senator was speaking on. Anyone wish to speak against? For? The senator’s ready to close?
Garner [01:43:51] Yes, governor. I’ll say it again, that no business has played unemployment for insurance for people they don’t have working for them. So when I say it’s the labor of the employee that they use to pay that, it’s the profits they do off that. So it is a symbiotic relationship, even though the employee isn’t paying that directly. But we keep talking about this trust fund and the money. I understand it is real concern. But if we can’t break in case of emergency, that trust fund right now, when we have the potential of thousands, if not tens of thousands of Arkansans being unemployed, especially if there’s a mandate which makes them do that through their business, then I don’t understand why we have such a system in place. I think this is the perfect time to do that, to make sure that they have this supplemental income that allows them to transition from one job to the other, or to have that small financial freedom to happen during that time. I don’t think it’s ripe for abuse. And I think it will actually make things easier in Arkansas. And with that, Mr. President, I am closed.
Griffin [01:44:49] Madam Secretary, please call the roll.
Cornwell [01:44:52] Ballinger, yes. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, yes. Chesterfield, no. Clark, yes. Davis, Davis. Dismang, no. Eads, no. Elliot, no. English, no. Flipp, yes. Flowers. Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer, Hammer. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, no. Hill, Hill. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, no. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, no. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague. Tucker, no. Wallace, yes. [17 yes, 13 no, 5 not voting]
Griffin [01:46:10] Senator– it does. Senator Davis is aye. Anyone else? Senator Hill is aye. Anyone else? Senator Hammer is aye. Cast up the ballot. 20 yeas, 13 nays, the bill is passed. The emergency clause is not adopted. Senator Blake Johnson, revisiting the earlier bill.
Cornwell [01:46:42] Senate Bill 732 by Senator Blake Johnson to prohibit coercion of peoples, persons to receive the vaccine or immunization for COVID 19 and declare an emergency.
B Johnson [01:46:59] Members, this, this bill, like Senator Hammer’s with the natural immunity, this bill just puts the philosophical objection in there because you’re religious and your, your, your medical is already in place through federal law. And this puts it in statute in Arkansas law like it is in education.
Griffin [01:47:24] Any questions for the senator? Anyone wish to speak against? Anyone wish to speak for? The Senator is closed. The Senator is closed. Madam Secretary, please call the roll. I will remind you that this has an emergency clause.
Cornwell [01:47:43] Ballinger, Ballinger, yes. Beckham, yes. Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, yes. Clark, no. Davis, Davis. Dismang, Dismang, no. Eads, no. Elliot, no. English, no. Flippo, Flippo. Flowers, Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer, yes. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, Hickey. Hill, yes. Ingram, no. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, yes. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, no. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague. Tucker, no. Wallace, yes. [18 yes, 11 no, 6 not voting]
Griffin [01:49:06] Anyone wish to vote or change their vote? Senator Davis is aye. Senator Flippo is aye. Anybody else? Cast up the ballot. 21 yeas, 11 nays, the bill is passed. The emergency clause is not adopted. Any items at the desk?
Cornwell [01:49:28] Yes. Senate Bill 742 by English concerning the establishment of the four congressional district boundaries in Arkansas and to declare an emergency. Senate Bill 742.
Griffin [01:49:39] State Agencies. Any announcements? Senator Pitsch, did you have an announcement? I seem to recall– if you’d come down here, that’d be preferable. Thanks. Senator Pitsch is recognized for an announcement.
Pitsch [01:50:00] Thank you, governor. Members, Insurance and commerce is going to– [Gavel]– Insurance and Commerce is going to meet at 1:00. Yeah, let’s meet at 1:00. I was going to say, we’ll move it up, but let’s meet at 1:00. We have one resolution to hear from Senator Johnson. We’ll be in room 171. Thank you.
Griffin [01:50:18] Senator Rapert.
Rapert [01:50:21] Members, in light of the announcement on Insurance and Commerce, State Agencies, unless there’s anything else that should be brought to my attention, we’ll try to meet at 1:30. We have a new bill that’s been introduced. Senator English, you at least need to have a hearing on that. So unless there’s any objections, any conflicts, we’ll do it at 1:30.
Griffin [01:50:41] Senator Sample.
Sample [01:50:44] Revenue and Tax will meet in the morning at 9:00 in room 171 to discuss the Moody’s report.
Griffin [01:51:00] Any other announcements? Give me one second. I’m going to figure out what time we will be gaveling in. 4 a.m., 4 a.m. I’m kidding. I might do it. We’ll pass a bunch of stuff or not. What time we going to be here tomorrow, Senator?
Hickey [01:51:37] We got the committee meeting at 9:00 so let’s– on the Moody’s reports– so let’s come in at 11:00. That’ll give us two hours to hear the Moody’s report on the tax cuts.
Griffin [01:51:47] All right. 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. The Senate is adjourned until 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, subject to the clearing of this walnut desk.