Senate Public Health
October 1, 2021 (afternoon meeting)
Bledsoe [00:00:05] Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to start our meeting. The chair sees a quorum. And Senator Ballinger, you are up with Senate Bill 719. And you are recognized.
Ballinger [00:00:16] Thank you, Mrs. Chair. It’s actually 731. It’s the same, same substance, but different bill. And 719, we’re not running. So the only difference between 719, which is the bill we filed a couple of months ago and 731 is it includes, this includes the language of the American Rescue Plan. It was, it was an attempt to make sure that it fit even tighter with the, with the resolution. But of course, the way the Senate chair ruled, he ruled that the– that it didn’t even have to have that. But anyway, so that’s where we’re at. I don’t want to take much time in, in running this. I’m obviously happy to answer questions for the committee. And I do know that the public has been here. And, and honestly, this bill is the bill that probably a lot of people have gotten emails back about and all that. But one thing I want to make it real clear is Senator Hammer’s bill is the compromise bill. It’s the bill that is, that is, that, you know, Lord willing, as long as everything works the way it’s supposed to do becomes law. I’m only running this if that doesn’t happen, right? So, so my hope is that we can get this back out of this committee and on the floor for me to be able to hold unless something doesn’t– just in case something doesn’t go right with Senator Hammer’s bill, which I don’t think is going to happen. I think the compromise bill fixes the problems that that we have. I, I like this bill, but at the same time, I also like Senator Hammer’s bill and I’m OK with it. So what this bill does is this just creates a right of privacy for for citizens that would be recognized if there is any, any type of of negative effects from having that. A person has a right– regarding their, their COVID 19 vaccination, people have a right to either disclose that if they want or to withhold that. And if there is retaliation against them because of the fact that they do withhold it, then they’d have the same damages that you would get out of, you know, the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, where you could file a lawsuit for that. So if you’re terminated or you’re not allowed to go to work because the fact that you’re discriminated against, you can file that lawsuit. This would fix the problem, but so does Senator Hammer’s bill. And it may do it in a way that that gets– I mean, honestly, my hope is that we get the, the, the emergency clause because then that is what will provide the help to the people. I think we can get there with Sen. Hammer’s bill, not with this one.
Bledsoe [00:02:29] All right. Questions from the committee? All right. Seeing no questions–
Ballinger [00:02:37] And I would just say just real quickly if individuals want– have, have– want to speak about this bill in particular, they, they probably should. And honestly, as a legislator, I have no right to cut anybody off from speaking. But honestly, I really would like most of the energy and attention to be focused on the compromise bill rather than this one. Just, just so you know.
Bledsoe [00:02:56] All right. So what you’re saying is that if this passes the committee, you will hold it on the floor of the Senate until we know where we are on senator Hammer’s bill. Is that correct?
Ballinger [00:03:07] [00:03:07]That’s exactly right.
Bledsoe [00:03:08] All right. All right. OK, well, I’m still going to have to call for for and against. So ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard the senator and he– none of the committee members wanted to ask questions. So it is your turn. Is there anyone that wants to speak for or against this bill?
Staff [00:03:28] There were several people signed up this morning.
Bledsoe [00:03:30] All right. Several people signed up this morning. Now, if you’d rather just pass because that’s what the senator would like, then that’s fine. If you want to speak against it, that is different. Yes, ma’am.
Unknown audience [00:03:43] Yes, ma’am. We’re somewhat confused. So 731, is that replacing 719?
Bledsoe [00:03:52] Would you– she said– excuse– you need to come to the mic, please, and state your name for the record, please. And this is for– I’m allowing this because this is a point of clarification. We don’t take questions from the, from the audience, but this is about clarification. So listen intently, please. Go ahead, Senator.
Ballinger [00:04:16] So, so this, and since I heard her question, but everybody may not have. I’ll restate it. She asked if this replaces 719. And that’s probably the number a lot of people have heard because it’s the one that was filed months ago. So 719 is the– was the privacy. This is the same exact bill with a couple of extra words that really don’t mean anything except for it more– provides more clarification of the fund that moneys would come out of. That is what this is. However, the bill that, that has gotten support in order to be able to get the emergency clause done– so fundamentally, we can pass this– I believe we can pass this and get 18 votes on it. We may get a little more, but I don’t think we get 24 votes on it. If that happens, protection– these protections won’t go into effect until January. The bill that I’m working with, with Senator Hammer on, he’s taken the lead on and he’s done a lot of work on it and the caucus has got together on will provide those protections. But it has a chance of getting 24 votes and going into effect as soon as it’s either signed into law or comes in effect without us– without signing. And so that’s, that’s why my attention is focused on trying to help that bill get through. The only reason I’m even running this in committee is because of if it makes it out to the floor, then I don’t– we don’t have to rely on the committee meeting again in order to get it going if something were to happen to Senator Hammer’s bill.
Bledsoe [00:05:32] All right, we have a question from Senator Hammer. If you are, if you are– if you understand now what the question, you may be seated.
Unknown audience [00:05:41] I just need some [?] bill numbers so we can make sure.
Hammer [00:05:45] But there will be amendments coming into the room in a minute on it. So just–.
Bledsoe [00:05:50] Alright, you’re recognized for a question.
Hammer [00:05:52] Thank you, Madam Chair. Senator Ballinger, would you qualify– it’s 18 votes to get the bill out. When you refer to 24 votes, that is what is required by legislate– or by, by, rule– by, by our guidelines in order to get the bill out with the emergency clause. The bill could pass, fail on the emergency clause, which would delay it going into effect for 90 days. Would you just clarify the 18 and the 24?
Ballinger [00:06:17] Yes, that’s exactly right. So if we, if we pass this and the emergency clause failed on it– it takes 18 votes to pass, takes 24 votes, supermajority, which makes sense for it to have a– the emergency clause and go in effect. And we can do that, I believe, with Senator Hammer’s bill. With this bill, I, I– we’re, we’re just not going to get there.
Bledsoe [00:06:38] All right. Ladies and gentlemen, I do have someone from the State Department of Health. Matt Gilmore, if you would like to come forward. All right, recognize– if the two of you would state your name and where you’re from for the, for the committee and the record.
Thompson [00:07:09] Charles Thompson, attorney, Department of Health.
Gilmore [00:07:13] Madam Chair, Matt– Matt Gilmore, Department of Health.
Bledsoe [00:07:17] Alright, you’re recognized.
Gilmore [00:07:20] Thank you for the opportunity, Madam Chair. There is one section in the bill that we just want– we’re not speaking against it. We’re just making a comment. On the second page of the bill, it talks about requiring disclosure of the individual’s vaccination status might be an issue with infection control procedures or policies. Also, with funding long term through CMS and things like that. So I just wanted to point that out. Appreciate your time this, this, this morning.
Bledsoe [00:07:47] All right. Thank you so much. We have it– are there any questions from the committee for DHS and their representatives? All right, saying none, thank you so much for your testimony. Thank you. All right. Does anyone want to speak against the bill? All right. Seeing none, and of course, we have those that want to speak for it. But you have heard the senator’s request. Is there anyone that just has to speak for it? All right. Seeing none, have you closed for your bill, senator?
Ballinger [00:08:27] I’ll just close real, real quickly. I mean, I do understand and everybody in the world needs to recognize CMS has, has, has come down with a rule. We don’t know what the rule will say. The, the rule very well could come down and say something about the funding for Medicaid and Medicare and requiring some level of vaccination status. There will be lawsuits against that as soon as it comes down.]But ultimately, if those go into effect, nobody here wants to shut down any hospitals. No one here wants to cut off funding. It will create a situation where either the supremacy clause, and there will be federal supremacy over the regulation, or we’ll have to address it to make sure that that funding is not cut off. So in the end, like, I’m definitely not going to draft a bill with the future possible federal government stepping in and overstepping its bounds and us complying before we even see what the rule is. But, but I am closed and I appreciate the committee.
Bledsoe [00:09:22] All right, thank you so much. All right, committee, you’ve heard everything that there needs to be heard on this bill. And so what is the will of the committee? All right– I have a– do I have a second. All right. All those in favor say aye. Those opposed. Congratulations, you have passed your bill. All right. Next, we have Senator Garner on Senate Bill 730 and you are recognized.
Garner [00:09:49] Thank you, Madam Chair. Ladies and gentlemen of this fine committee, this is a very simple bill. It only changes a couple code– letters– lines of code. What this does is clarify a question I think many people have been asking here lately is if I’m fired from my job for refusing the COVID 19 vaccine, will I be entitled to the benefits like most people do when they’re fired from an employment? And we’ve reached out to workforce services and a few others to try to get that clarified and the answer at very best is mixed to muddy. So what this does is it takes a law we’ve had in effect since 1935, the, the unemployment insurance in the state of Arkansas, and it adds an exemption to the list of exemptions that already exist and makes sure crystal clear in the code that if somebody is fired, they’re able to access their benefits for unemployment insurance. With that, madam Chair, I’ll take any questions.
Bledsoe [00:10:39] All right. What about questions, committee? Have any questions for Senator Garner? All right. We have an amendment?
Garner [00:10:49] Oh, yes. I forgot about the amendment. Yeah, we adopt the amendments– only emergency clause. Sorry about that.
Bledsoe [00:10:52] All right. We’re going to have to vote on the amendment. All right. We have only an emergency clause. So all those in favor– we have a motion and a second. All those in favor say aye to adopt the amendment clause. All right. Your– and all those opposed. Your amendment has passed. And you’re recognized.
Garner [00:11:18] Yes, ma’am. Unless there’s questions, I’ll, I’ll- will cede my time.
Bledsoe [00:11:21] All right. Any questions? All right. Does anyone in the audience want to speak for or against this bill? All right. We have someone in the back, if you’d come forward. Do you want to speak for or against?
Unknown audience [00:11:36] I want to speak for but I have a question.
Bledsoe [00:11:46] Is it a question about process? We don’t take questions from the public about other things. If it’s a question about process or something like that. Okay, but you want to speak for it. So please do. And say name and where you’re from for the record, please.
Vance [00:12:03] My name is Ashley Vance. I’m from Sheridan, Arkansas. This bill, I believe, is very good and it’s going to help a lot of people. What I feel– the people it is not going to help that need help is the employers who have told their employees that if you do not comply and take this vaccine that is passed down from the federal level, you– they will take that as your voluntary resignation. And that’s how they will put it. Not that you you just quit, basically.
Bledsoe [00:12:39] All right. Any questions for the witness? All right. Seeing none, thank you so much for your testimony. All right, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard testimony from the senator. Do you want to close for your bill?
Garner [00:12:55] Yes, ma’am. I’ll answer that question as much as possible. Right now, the way I understand unemployment is that you could be– have dispute of whether you were voluntarily let go, fired. That happens within our unemployment system all the time. The same processes that would allow you to appeal that decision from your employer are still in place. We change absolutely nothing. The only difference is you have a black letter law that says if you were fired for Covid reasons, specifically for not taking the vaccine, that’s a termination and you can be– get those benefits. So I believe in that scenario, not knowing all the details, you would still be able to access those benefits, assuming you can access those benefits normally. Thank you. And with that, I’m closed.
Bledsoe [00:13:30] All right, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard testimony. You’ve heard the bill explained. What is the will of the committee? I have a– as amended, as amended. All right, do I have a second? I have a second. All those in favor say aye. All those opposed. Congratulations, you’ve passed your bill. All right. Next on the agenda is Senator Ballinger with 731. You’re going to pass that. OK, then Senator Garner, you are next. So this is 0733.
Garner [00:14:05] Yes, ma’am. I believe there’s an emergency clause amendment as well I need to adopt.
Ballinger [00:14:12] Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [00:14:13] Yes.
Ballinger [00:14:14] I’m so sorry. The, so 731 is actually the one that we just passed out, I believe. 719 was the one that I passed over earlier. So and I apologize. Just making sure that that was–
Bledsoe [00:14:24] Okay. Yes, we’ve got it. We’ve got it right. All right. We were looking for an amendment.
Garner [00:14:39] Yes, ma’am. Just to explain it should just be an emergency clause added into the bill. Nothing substantially else changed. Emergency clause is, for everybody here is whenever, no–
Bledsoe [00:15:40] OK. 733 is passed out. Do I have a motion to adopt the emergency clause? All right. A second. And all those in favor say aye. All those opposed. All right, you want to explain your emergency– this is just an emergency clause. Is that correct?
Garner [00:15:58] Yes, ma’am. It should be adopted, right? Yes, ma’am.
Bledsoe [00:16:01] OK. All right. You;re ready to explain your bill?
Garner [00:16:04] Yes, ma’am, I am.
Bledsoe [00:16:05] As amended?
Garner [00:16:06] Yes, ma’am. As amended. So one of the most contentious issues we’ve had here lately is when the school year’s going back is the quarantine standards set by the Department of Health and being enforced by the Department of Education. As many of you probably realize we have sent home hundreds, if not thousands, of perfectly healthy, safe kids from school, missing critical time that they need to do it. And so I thought of what a way to solve this problem that we’ve had with the Department of Health kind of having this draconian top down approach. And I was inspired by none other than our governor, Asa Hutchinson. Recently when we had the special session for the mask mandate, the governor said multiple times in multiple interviews that when it came to masking, it shouldn’t be a top down big government approach. It actually should be handled by each local school board. If you look at the court case and where it’s moved at the Supreme Court, it seems the courts have held to that position so far, as well, allowing local school boards to have large latitude when it comes to public health and safety. So that perked a idea in my head. And it made me think, if we trust a school board so much for so many different issues, we love this idea of local control, why don’t we take down this top down Little Rock approach and instead empower each school board to know what’s best for them and their children. So that these school boards, if they decide to do different quarantine standards, they are allowed to do it just like their mask. There’s a problem right now is we set up a punitive system within our quarantine standard up until recently, where if you masked a kid, they could go back sooner versus ones that were unmasked. And it creates this unfair incentive in our system to send healthy kids home. What this will do is allow those local school board, the most accountable to the people they represent, as we have seen from multiple school board meetings these last month and a half, two months to be accountable those people and allow those parents to set up the quarantine standards that’s best for them and those children of that local community. And with that, Madam Chair, I’ll take any questions.
Bledsoe [00:17:56] Any questions from the committee? All right, seeing none, does anyone want to speak for or against this bill? OK, recognized and your name? OK. I think you’re on the list. Yeah, OK. Have we got the new list? Is that the new list? All right, if you would identify yourself for the record.
Koehler [00:18:27] Hello, my name is Melissa Koehler. I am a mom to a 14 year old student at Alma Middle School. And my eighth grade daughter has had only six days of in-school instruction in the entire month of September, and it is completely due to the arbitrary, albeit seemingly unscientific and definitely not based in the numbers, rules. And actually, we can’t even call them rules. They’re a guidance as sent out to the school. They received guidance for schools. The problem with this guidance is that it’s been, as testified to by the Arkansas Department of Health, guidance is considered law. And if the school does not follow any guidance, then they can receive all types of penalties and losses. So this guidance literally has become law for our school without parents being able to do anything. The number one thing I’ve heard both times during both of her and I’m going to call them suspensions, because she is suspended from the school. She cannot walk in that school door and not even if the day she was suspended, if the day she was so called quarantined, if I went and got a rapid test and she was proven to be negative, she can’t walk back into that, to that school. In fact, she– this last quarantine, she was quarantined– she was exposed on a Friday. She was taken out of school on a Monday, but I was not allowed to get her a test that the school would accept due to the guidance by ADH until Wednesday. Now, my daughter had several plans for this week that she did not want to miss. We do have friends that believe in CDC guidance and those plans were with those friends. So this time I relented and we got a rapid test on Wednesday on my– and so we did that before I came down to the Capitol on Wednesday. Before I could make it to the Capitol, I received an email that telling me that my daughter was negative. I could not then call my parents and send her back to school. She had to wait until today. She could not return to school. So she has a negative test, she still can’t go to school on Thursday. She finally gets back today. So literally six days of in-school instruction in one month. And let’s top that off with my daughter is a dyslexic student. Now she’s received a lot of tutoring. She has above grade level reading scores now. We’ve worked very hard for that. But that does not change that when she’s in school receiving instruction from her, her teachers, she’s a much more engaged in what she’s learning. She learns better. So I have a student that at the end of August was a straight-A student. At the end of September, she had a D, D, F, C, A and A. And the A’s were in art and in green agriculture. She had no A’s left in core classes. That means she might have to redo if we were at a different point in this school year. If that continues through this school year, I don’t know that my eighth grade student, who is an A student will be able to move into the ninth grade. And it all has become, has come to fruition because of the whip that this guidance has become. And it’s a whip on parents that don’t believe in getting an injection and a whip on schools that are not enforcing masks. Because, as the senator stated, this guidance says that if you’re fully quarantined, which my daughter is of age to be fully quarantined, you don’t have to, you don’t have to quarantine. Or if both the student there was sick and the student that was exposed wear their mask properly and somehow the teacher is supposed to say that they did or did not, that then they don’t have to quarantine. But all of those who have an objection for all their different reasons would have to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days. And it is, and it’s– this is an incentive. This is a whip. It has nothing to do with the true health of our children, and it has absolutely everything to do with politics. And quite honestly, I’m coming to believe we’re trying to dumb down our population because our students are not being educated. So I urge you each for a do pass, but not just here. I urge you to take the control and give it back to the parents because we will hold our school boards accountable. So give us the right to hold them accountable and do our own work as parents so that you can get back to doing the work that legislators need to do. And I thank you so much.
Bledsoe [00:23:15] All right, questions? And see a question from Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [00:23:18] So thank you and I support what you’re saying. And as I look through that guidance, the guidance also requires that temperatures be taken. Is your daughter’s temperature taken every day?
Koehler [00:23:29] No, sir.
Sullivan [00:23:30] They require special ventilation. Does the school comply with all the rules on ventilation and keeping the doors open?
Koehler [00:23:38] I do not know if they keep the doors open. I know that the Alma school district is working to improve all of the air systems throughout the district.
Sullivan [00:23:45] I know, but they’ve already quarantined your daughter, suspended her in the past. I think there are like 15 different guidelines. Have you been to your school to ask them if they’re in full compliance and, and offering equal disciplinary action on all 15 of them? Are they only actionable on the quarantine? On the six foot quarantine?
Koehler [00:24:06] I have not yet had time to make that appointment. And even furthermore, I was only alerted to that form and that parents could ask these types of questions and demand these answers two days ago. I would say that probably 99.9 Percent of our parents around the state have no idea that they could have a meeting like that and demand those answers.
Sullivan [00:24:27] So has the– is the teacher willing to certify– I wouldn’t say under oath– but certify that that student had their mask on properly or improperly in order to make that determination?
Koehler [00:24:40] Our teacher would have to certify that she did not because our school is not under a mask mandate and my child does not wear a mask. So that’s out of compliance with the guidelines.
Sullivan [00:24:48] Okay, all right. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [00:24:50] Any other questions from the committee? All right. Seeing none, anyone else in the audience want to speak for or against the bill? Are you for?. All right. Are you against? All right. Let’s take the against now. If you’ll come and introduce yourself for the record.
Hernandez [00:25:12] Good morning, my name is Dr. Mike Hernandez, executive director for the School Administrators Association. And I’m here to speak against the bill and want to talk about some of the reasons why. There’s nothing that the lady that spoke before me that I would disagree with. Quarantines are a huge, huge issue for districts across our state. A number of administrators comment about issues that they’re having. As far as this bill is concerned, you know, the major aspects that we are worried about, I guess as administrators are twofold. One, this seems to go a lot farther than COVID 19. It specifically says that school boards will make the decision to quarantine, isolate and enforce those things on any number of infectious diseases. So any time there’s a new disease that pops up, it then falls to the school board to make these decisions. And at a district level, you know, they don’t have a lot of access to people that they would be able to make that decision on a regular basis without, you know, working closely with the health department or other health professionals in their communities. The, the thing that was spoken to about the arbitrariness and, you know, different ways that this can be implemented, I think that’s the struggle that we’re facing across the state right now with masks. And whether school districts are masking or not, I think this would be the same process if every school board across the state were left to make the decision of whether or not to quarantine, enforce quarantines and those types of things. And so those are those are probably the two major concerns is, is putting that back on our school district to have to make those decisions without some kind of guidance or guardrails in place.
Bledsoe [00:27:03] All right. Thank you. We have a question from a committee member, Senator Hammer.
Hammer [00:27:07] Thank you. I just want to make sure our mindsets are going down the same way. On Page 1, Line 33, it says the board or its designee may issue guidance. So by– and to the bill sponsor, I’m not sure that’s the right word you want in there versus shall. By having the word may, it delegates to each individual school district and its board to determine the guidance. They could fully accept the guidance as passed down by the Department of Health or any other governing institution, or they may choose to intervene and say, We appreciate that. We’re going to take some of that and we’re going to issue our own guidance. First of all, am I correct on that?
Garner [00:27:48] Absolutely. That’s within the bill purposely. This way this would work would be similar to the mask mandates, where a guidance would be put out by the Department of Health, the Department of Education, just like masking was, which came out a day before most schools started. And the school board themselves can make a determination in whether they want to follow that, change it, or modify it based on their own determination. But that guidance can be provided by the Department of Health, and they have the option to do that. And that would be accessible to all information experts and all of the power of the Department of Health. The final decision making would be left to the school board.
Hammer [00:28:20] And we worry about funding being cut off from the feds or from the state either one, how would this or what would this do with regard to any funding streams that may come down to the schools if you have two different schools utilizing two different guidance policies? How is that going to– how is that going to affect it? Thank you.
Garner [00:28:41] I would argue that multiple other states have put in bans, and I have not heard of one state losing funding for school districts because of that. You look at Florida and their governor being very aggressive about standing up for individual rights of parents and students. And I have not heard about federal funding from any of the multiple federal programs for American Rescue Plan being cut off for them yet. I frankly think this idea that we’ll lose funding if we don’t toe step to every part of this line is a false one and one that I do not think will come to fruition.
Bledsoe [00:29:12] Have you finished, senator?
Garner [00:29:15] Yes, ma’am. Unless he has more.
Bledsoe [00:29:16] Wait a minute– I was asking Sen. Hammer.
Hammer [00:29:19] Does Mr. Hernandez want to voice anything on that? Please, Madam chairman, I’m done. Thank you.
Bledsoe [00:29:25] All right.
Hernandez [00:29:27] I’m sorry, Senator. Was the question about the bill or about the–
Hammer [00:29:31] Yeah. My question is by it being permissive, if you have two school districts sitting side by side, one chooses to go about it one way, one chooses to go about it another way with regarding– because I’ve heard you know about funding sources being cut off to the schools and that could be a veiled threat, could be a real one. You’ve heard what the senator said. I would just like you to address that issue, how you would resolve that if you have multiple school districts operating under multiple guidances as determined by their board. Which I’m not trying to debate one way or the other on that, I just want to hear about the money.
Hernandez [00:30:05] So in the bill, I’m not aware of any funding issues that might be there. I know that not knowing how this fits in with other codes, if we’re not following guidelines and guidance by the Department of Health or the Department of Education, this may trigger other laws. I haven’t been able to study that completely. I think that the only thing that is a concern may not, may or may not be valid is that when you do have two different districts following two different guidelines of something of this magnitude, especially around infectious diseases, what kind of liabilities would be there if, in fact a student or staff member became sick because they were going against what was recommended to them by the Department of Health?. I think that would be a concern that we would like to study a little more to see what implications that might have.
Bledsoe [00:30:55] OK. Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [00:30:57] Thank you. And you represent the superintendents?
Hernandez [00:31:00] [00:31:00]Yes, yes.
Sullivan [00:31:01] So I Just see– it seems like the guidance that the Department of Health has now said is mandatory under punishment that the school districts are very selective in what they enforce. In other words, as I asked before, we don’t enforce temperatures anymore. Correct?
Hernandez [00:31:21] So, senator, you know, my understanding of the guidance is just that– guidance–
Sullivan [00:31:26] [00:31:26]No it’s not.
Hernandez [00:31:27] –related to what’s put out–
Sullivan [00:31:27] The Department of Health has said it’s not guidance. They said it’s mandatory and it’s punishable. They just don’t enforce it. So under the– and if I’m wrong, they can come up and– they’re here. They can come up and correct me. But why are we so selective in what we enforce in their guidance?
Hernandez [00:31:45] Senator, what we understand is that the guidance that’s put out there is just that– guidance. And the ones that are– the part of it that is required is related to the quarantines. We’ve been made aware of that by the Department of Health and Department of Education that we must report those things. That’s part of the rules in the Department of Health guidelines related to infectious diseases and in–
Sullivan [00:32:08] If you could give me that in writing. I’d like to see that in writing.
Hernandez [00:32:12] Yes, sir.
Sullivan [00:32:13] And you know, if we are, if we are going to take our guidance by the Department of Health and the Department of Education on these things, what’s the need for the school boards anymore or superintendents? At what point do we act independently in the best interest of our students?
Hernandez [00:32:33] Senator, I think we always try to act independently as much as possible in the best interests of students. But when it comes to making decisions about health, health related matters, you know, we often give deference to health professionals. And that’s kind of the way we’ve always done things. And I think that’s the case with this bill.
Sullivan [00:32:49] Alright, thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [00:32:50] All right. Any other questions from the committee? Seeing none, thank you so very much. Have you closed for your bill?
Garner [00:32:59] I think the Department of Health–
Bledsoe [00:33:01] Wait a minute. OK, just a minute. There’s some other people that would like to– all right. I believe I saw– have you signed up to– OK. If you would come forward and induce yourself for the record, please.
Highsmith [00:33:20] Hello and thank you. I’m Dr. William Highsmith, family practitioner in Sheridan, Arkansas. What I want to speak for in favor of this bill is allow– is it does allow then the school board and each individual district to act in a way that’s best for their district. Because if you look at the Department of Health and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidances, which the school boards, we’ve recently had this battle in Sheridan sees it not as guidance. They see it as these are the absolute rules that we have to follow. They vary completely from rules put out by the World Health Organization as far as distances. They call for 360 degree, 6 foot around somebody to be quarantined, where there’s no reason for any– if I had COVID right now and was talking in a classroom, there’s no reason for the people behind me to be quarantined. Also in those guidances it calls for proper and correct and consistent mask wearing to avoid the penalties for lack of a better term of not having a mask mandate. But when you look at the guidances from the World Health Organization regarding correct and consistent mask wearing, there’s nobody that meets those guidances anywhere at any time. So I’m very much in favor of allowing each individual district to decide within– with input from their local physicians, from their input from their local, you know, parents what is best for each individual district with regard to this.
Bledsoe [00:35:22] OK, thank you. Any more questions from the committee? Seeing none, thank you so very much. You have to take a day of work off to come like some of these people?
Highsmith [00:35:32] Yes, ma’am.
Bledsoe [00:35:32] Well, thank you so much for doing that and thank all of you who, who did the same. All right. We have some more that would like to speak. This lady back in the back, I know she signed up because we’ve had a conversation. So if you’ll come up and state your name for the record. Where are you from?
Bosch [00:35:56] My name is Melissa Bosch and I’m from the Cabot school district. I’m a military vet and I was going to speak at the last one of how you can’t force vaccinate people. I was given the anthrax as well and then subsequently had two premature births. Once it was out of my system, I had two normal births after that. So that’s kind of where I’m at on vaccine because you can’t mandate. Also, I have a daughter who was almost killed by doctors as well. She had a genetic mutation which did not turn on till she was 7. And so when it comes to vaccinations, there is a whole list of genetic mutations we don’t know about that can be turned on later in life. And hers was actually not on the books, and we fought very hard to find it and we found the diagnosis in Boston. I’m sorry, I’m nervous. But during that time, when we were getting her a bone marrow transplant, a doctor prescribed a medication that almost fried her brain. It’s called neuroleptic malignant syndrome. And so when you guys make laws on quarantining, you don’t understand that– well, I’ll go back. So I’m from Montana. I probably talk a little bit different than everybody else here. But I am now a resident. We’re retiring here, and this is why this is so important to me because we have chosen out of all the states to retire as military, we’re staying here because we thought, Oh, it’s safe and the school systems are great, which I’m learning aren’t. But what I found out– because I’m a curriculum nerd, like, I just love a good education, but my kids aren’t getting that. But on the other side, when they forced the masks I started researching. And when my daughter was in the ICU, we lived there for 10 months. The child next to her got chicken pox and it– he also had an autoimmune disease, and so he was actively inflamed with chicken pox. We had one ICU room. He was next to us and the nurses were joined. At no point did a doctor or nurse go into his room with like he’s from the Department of Health, like he should know not to wear that mask around a virus. So they actually wore N95 masks for the chickenpox vaccine. And the gentleman who had beards, they put on gas masks because they knew they had been vaccinated, but they can carry that virus in their nose and just breathe it on my daughter. And so masks have led us to this quarantine issue, which is completely unfair. Because being from Montana, Montana has already outlawed masks for children. The Department of Health and Human Services outlawed them because suicides skyrocketed that first year. And they said also kids were coming up with upper respiratory diseases that should not have been given. They were giving themselves strep because we all have strep throat. They were giving themselves RSV. Like they’re giving themselves diseases. And so they banned quarantining. They banned masks. And the governor just signed a law that bans firing people for vaccines based on your human rights. And so I don’t know– maybe I haven’t read the whole Arkansas code. Like, do we have a human rights, anything in our constitution here? Because that might be a slip up where we don’t even have to talk about the vaccines. But while quarantining on and off all of these kids in our school district, only 1 percent have popped up with COVID. And so if we’re all talking about science and data, like shouldn’t we look at the data that we’re following? We’re not following the 2019 guidance. Somehow, the Arkansas Department of Health actually has a more strict guidance because their guidance for schools say you have to have three or more positive cases in a small area. And then the superintendent calls the Department of Health and then they authorize the quarantine. And that’s the one that’s published that I just read, and there’s only two pages that reference schools. It’s Page five and 11. And so I haven’t found the place where they have given the authority to school nurses to quarantine or falsify COVID tests, which we’re fighting right now. A nurse just falsified a positive COVID test to verify– like to to make it back– so it doesn’t look like they quarantined for no reason. That’s actually being litigated right now in Cabot. So it’s, it’s not that it’s just there, it’s just that there’s so many things that are going wrong with this and yet kids that are healthy are sitting there at home, waiting 10 to 14 days, or if their parents like to torture them, put a swab up their nose every four days to try to get them back earlier, which I think is completely wrong. So when we look at this quarantine thing, we need to figure out, does it even make sense scientifically because these kids aren’t even– they’re being quarantined– I’m not talking about positive cases. Of course, parents keep their kids home during flu season. Like, why is this any different? More kids died from the flu than COVID. So when a kid is positive, I believe in keeping them home and until they’re well. But the close contact is just, it’s not making any sense. And so I would even go further and not even to leave it up to the school board. I would leave it up to the most local level of government, and that would be the parent. If I feel my child was around someone sick, I’ll keep them home.
Bledsoe [00:41:27] All right. Thank you. Thank you for that testimony. If you wouldn’t mind, thank you very much. I know you probably had a lot more to say, but thank you very much. All right. Who is the next one? All right. And please, let’s, let’s don’t– concise and not repeat what has already been implied or said, please. All right, and state your name again and where you’re from for the record. Yes, ma’am.
Robertson [00:42:01] My name is Alana Robertson. I was up here earlier. I’m– my address is Searcy, Searcy, but my school district is Beebe. So my issue is that realistically, at this point, the Arkansas Department of Health and the governor are using the quarantines as a backdoor puppeteering to mask mandate and to vaccine mandate. You are not looking at this as a data driven issue. You’re not– they’re not using the numbers. I was a math curriculum specialist for schools. I dealt with data every single day. The data doesn’t agree with any of this. So you’re not using– they’re not using the data to keep kids home or keep kids in schools. They keep saying the whole reason we were quarantining, the whole reason we’re masking, the whole reason we’re now incentivizing for the vaccines through the quarantines, which doesn’t exactly make sense. That’s more like coercion, you guys. When you’re, when you’re threatening kids with quarantines to get the vaccine, that’s coercion. Just a heads up. They don’t have the executive functioning to, to get, to be able to choose a medical procedure for themselves. If you’re threatening children to not be on a band starting line up if they don’t have a vaccine, then and they have to get quarantined, then that’s coercion. If you are threatening children not to be on varsity team if they don’t have a vaccine and have to get quarantined, that’s coercion. And I will be concise. I know, madam. But these are all issues, these are all quarantine related. And so that’s why the school district needs to take control, because right now, the Arkansas Department of Health and the governor are back door pressuring all these school districts to be inconsistent because, yes, there are a massive amount of guidance and they’re not following all of the guidance. It’s a ridiculous amount. Also, with the funding, you guys mentioned the funding earlier. We’ve been Freedom of Information Act requesting these school districts and we’ve been looking at all the money spent and the schools that are not requiring masks at this point are some of the school districts that spent money on ventilation. The ones that did not spend money on ventilation are the ones requiring masks. Go ahead and we can send you the money spent thus far for Cabot school district or for some of these other school districts. They have not spent money on ventilation. They have not used the money properly. They have moved money from their regular budget over into ESSER 1, ESSER 2 and ARP ESSER funding, and we have proof of that. And it fits the budgeting funds. I dealt with budgets. I understand how that works. But nonetheless, they did not use it for ventilation to drop down the quarantine measures. So if they would have used the funding correctly, the quarantine numbers would be lower. So if you all would go ahead and request that data, you would be very surprised at how these school districts are not using those funds to actually increase the safety and health measures for their staff and their students, as they said they would. Thank you, ma’am.
Bledsoe [00:45:31] Thank you. Wait a minute. Just a minute. Questions? Sen. Sullivan.
Sullivan [00:45:34] I want to encourage everyone to take this argument to your local school board. They’re the ones spending the money. I would also just try to ask a yes or no question. Do you know that every parent who’s had a child quarantined last year or this year can go to their school board, go to their principal and ask for the scientific data justifying that suspension quarantined? And they have a right through due process to get whether they were 6 feet, 1 inch or 5 feet 9 inches. Every parent should show up tomorrow to their principal asking for that information. Do you know that parents can do that tomorrow?
Robertson [00:46:12] I would like to say– I cannot answer that in yes or no because I have a current thread–
Sullivan [00:46:17] That’s right.
Robertson [00:46:17] I know, sir, I’m sorry. I have a current thread with that fake test that they did over in Cabot showing that for three or four days now, we’ve been doing requests back and forth and they will not give us that data. And they have now said, if you want any more information, you can send a lawyer. So we are now trying to get that parent, the lawyers, to be engaged because the school districts refuse to give them the information.
Bledsoe [00:46:43] [00:46:43]All right, thank you so much.
Sullivan [00:46:44] I don’t think that’s the question that I asked, but I’ll let it go.
Bledsoe [00:46:47] All right. Thank you. All right. That’s, that, that’s– all right. Wait a minute, we don’t– we don’t take– OK. All right, and I would like to remind all of us in the room, if you have a cell phone, please look at it and make sure yours is off. All right. So Senator, are you closed for your bill?
Garner [00:47:11] Yes, ma’am. I’ll be very brief. I asked the Department of Education directly that if school district decided to do something different with the quarantine standard, would there be consequences? And they said, yes, they have the ability to even pull their charter, I believe, was the word for it. He answered directly. And I asked him if he would change it, and he said, No. It’s time to take the governor at his word and follow his principle of giving that local control back to those local school boards. With that, I’m closed, Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [00:47:35] All right, thank you. All right, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard the information from the senator. You’ve heard, yes, those for and against. What’s the will of the committee? All right. What’s the will of the committee? All right, ladies and gentlemen, since there has been no motion, I’m sorry, Senator, you have failed your bill. Are you going on to talk about the next two? As I understand it, you want to talk about the next two briefly.
Garner [00:48:07] Briefly, very briefly.
Bledsoe [00:48:08] And pull them, is that right?
Garner [00:48:10] Yes, ma’am.
Bledsoe [00:48:10] All right. Well, we’re going to let you do that. Please, please be brief. All right.
Garner [00:48:14] The first one has to do with natural immunity. Great concept. The way I understand it is that was broadly discussed in Senator Hammer’s bill and some– and the other one we have. And so I think that was better covered by that bill. We don’t need to tread the same ground, so I’ll pass over that bill. The next one is the therapeutic bill. There needs to be a real discussion about how we treat people once they get Covid in the state of Arkansas. Therapeutics have been found to be beneficial, lifesaving things that we do. And honestly, the debate around certain therapeutics like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine has been disgusting, unscientific garbage. And they have known to save lives. They have known to make a difference. There’s multiple studies that prove that. The problem is, is that we’re not getting that guidance from the state of Arkansas. We don’t do a– gets, get a test, test positive and get treated. We get a test, get sent home and hope you don’t go to ICU. So I put this bill together to kind of give a list of information to certain people about– from the Department of Health– about those multiple therapeutics can be done. There’s, you know, antibody, the midroclono antibodies, whatever the exact name is, everything else. But I kind of had a realization that once it’s outside the preview of the legislator, they can write anything they want to on that. And so they could write that these things aren’t helpful and they are harmful to people. And because I frankly don’t trust that process to be fair, equitable to the actual science and data of it, I don’t think this law should go into effect because it could actually do more harm than, than not. But I’m happy we’re having a real discussion about therapeutics. It’s something the state of Arkansas needs to be leading on moving forward. So I’ll pull this bill down as well. And I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your time today.
Bledsoe [00:49:55] All right, thank you so much. All right, ladies and gentlemen, we are going on to– we’re going to pass over Senate Bill 736 by Sen. Ballinger. I don’t see Senator Clark in the committee room, so we’re going to pass over that. And then, and Senate bill 737 and then again Senate Bill 738 and now we are at Senate Bill 739 with Senator Hammer. If you would take the chair, senator. All right. When you are settled, you are recognized.
Hammer [00:50:49] Thank you, Madam Chair. Before I begin, I didn’t ask– did you want to help present?
Ballinger [00:50:56] If you want me there.
Hammer [00:50:56] Please. Could, could I ask Sen. Ballinger?
Bledsoe [00:50:56] Yes, that would be fun. We’re glad to have him. And I believe you have an amendment, is that correct?
Hammer [00:51:18] Yes, ma’am.
Bledsoe [00:51:19] And we will accept having a member of the House with us today. That is Representative Josh Bryant and welcome. And ladies and gentlemen, you can have a few seconds to look over the amendment and then Senator Hammer will explain the amendment. You’re recognized to explain the amendment.
Hammer [00:51:45] Thank you, Madam Chair. And the reason I have Senator Ballinger and Rep. Bryant joining me today is because we, along with other members in the Senate chamber as well as the House chamber, have worked together to bring this bill before you. And Representative Bryant presented this bill to Public Health on the House side, felt it would be good for– because there is an amendment just to make sure we have the ability to answer all the questions, him having presented it before in the Public Health.
Bledsoe [00:52:11] So you would like me to recognize Rep. Bryant to explain the amendment?
Hammer [00:52:18] No, I’ll, I’ll explain my amendment. I just wanted to clarify why I asked him to sit at the table, Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [00:52:23] I see. OK, thank you.
Hammer [00:52:23] Thank you. Do you want an explanation of the amendment or did I hear a motion a minute ago or– what– I’m sorry, I did not hear.
Bledsoe [00:52:32] No, an explanation of the amendment, please.
Hammer [00:52:35] Explanation. OK, I just wanted to make sure. Thank you. So this amendment comes having worked with several parties and also Representative Bryant having pioneered the bill through the House side already. These were some things that were agreed upon by various entities in order to smooth the bill and get it to the point where we are on the Senate side today, although it’s not officially passed out the House side yet. And so we had some individuals contribute to what we think may help make it a better bill. And that’s why I wanted to introduce the amendment. And at the proper time, I’d be glad to make a motion to adopt the amendment, Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [00:53:14] All right, ladies and gentlemen. Just be sure you look at the amendment and we do have a motion to adopt. So all those– I have a second. All those in favor say aye. Any opposed. Seeing none, the amendment has been adopted. And if you would explain the bill as amended, please.
Hammer [00:53:38] Thank you, Madam Chair. What I’d like to do is just walk through the bill. I think that’d be the best thing to do, make sure there’s clarity on all points. And also at any time, I’d like to welcome Senator Ballinger, Representative Bryant to join in and either correct me or help me, whichever one y’all want to do. First of all, the bill, as you read through in the act, it is modeled after the resolution that was presented in order for us to continue to take up certain items as defined in the resolution. So we made sure that the act and title had that in there. The amendment is that we took out the authorized unemployment benefits for individuals to be terminated due to the refusal to be vaccinated against COVID 19. And the reason for that, members, is because of other bills that were running through the chamber, but also in consultation with the Department of Commerce. If this bill is passed into law, then the ability for an employee to be able to draw unemployment would be present with the passage of this law. So those details are already worked out, and that’s why we removed that section from it, OK? And that, that would be covered with the passage of this bill. As you heard, other bills, those address those as well. Moving on down through the bill, when you get to the subtitle, again, we adjusted the subtitle to reflect the removal of the unemployment benefits because as I already stated. And then when you get down to the “Do not codify,” we wanted to make a strong statement about what we as legislators feel has gotten us to the point that we are. And one of the things– and this is personal editorial, but it relates to the bill– is this, nobody in this room really wants to be in this room. We’ve been made to be in this room. And we didn’t get made to be in this room because of anything we did here in the state of Arkansas. We’ve had it handed to us by the federal government and this administration. And it has caused us to have an internal fight among Arkansans that was really unnecessary. But yet we are where we are and we’re trying to find our pathway forward. Thank you very much, federal government. We’ll figure it out ourselves. And so that’s what this bill is, is an intent to express that we think this is a pathway forward to deal with overreaching federal mandates and regulations and provide a commonsense, reasonable approach in order to be able to get through this period of time, knowing this, that we are still sitting here today waiting for the rules of the federal government who impose themself upon Arkansans and every U.S. citizen. And while they are sitting up there trying to figure it out, we’re here today to say, we figured it out and that’s what this piece of legislation is all about, along with these others. So the United States government is mandating that employers– and I would like to make this statement based on testimony this morning. Not all employers want to mandate things upon their employees. One thing that is not provided for currently or could be taken away in the future is to protect employers who do not want to be forced against their own will to impose mandates on their employees that they don’t want to do. I’ve been talked to by multiple business owners that have told me, we don’t want to have to do this. We don’t want to be put in a position to have to do this, but what are we supposed to do? That’s the approach that we are taking in this resolution– or in this, in this legislation. Vaccinations mandated are overreach of authority. Many employees, employers– I’ve stated that. Flip over to the second page, and we’re still on the section “Do not codify” because it is intended to express the intent of the legislation. Arkansas employees need to be protected from this type of overreach. I did not put in there, but could have justifiably put in there, the word “employers.” But we know that with this passage of legislation for those employers that want to utilize it, they would be able to utilize it. For those that want to be under the pressure of the mandates, they have chosen to be that way. And so that’s why that statement’s in there. The assembly finds– and here’s the intent– that this act is intended to protect employees in Arkansas from impending termination due to vaccination mandates and create the ability for funding to be available to assist employees in Arkansas with the costs associated with testing related to the vaccination. So what we’re trying to do, the intent is to create a pathway forward that if in the event an employer requires an employee to be vaccinated, we want to make sure that we have secured a spot at the table that if funding becomes available and is allowable, that we would be able to access that in order to help offset the cost of the test that would be required. There will be some debate. Senator Ballinger may be able to speak to this as far as whether the current COVID 19 funds are allowable to be used for testing. I think there is some conflict of opinions about that. And I do want to put that out there for clarification for members to consider as we go through this. When you get to Section 2, which begins to get into the meat of the bill– and Madam Chair, let me just make sure, because I want to present the bill as amended– moving down to– when you, when you get down to line 16, the amendment deletes the word “treatment” and substitutes “vaccination or immunizations.” Are you comfortable talking to that? And if we could, Senator Ballinger will elaborate on that.
Ballinger [00:59:10] So the pesky House members came in and thought that they had better language than we had and, and we agreed with them because the bill has to make it through there. So, so essentially what they, what they said is that they felt like the, the word vaccination and immunization will make it more clear than the word treatments. And since we’ve got to get the bill out of their committee as well, we said, OK. And if Rep. Bryant wants to defend the House, he can.
Bryant [00:59:39] Yes, yes. Yes, Madam Chair. I’d love the opportunity to defend that. What we learned at the House this morning is that vaccination and immunization is not a treatment for COVID. It is basically a cure– or a– you know, it pushes along– a treatment would be, you know, go home and take, take medicine. So the way the bill as, as written is, it would basically limit the employer being only hospitals or people that provide treatment for COVID 19. So what we did is defined– instead of defining treatment below in the text is we just replaced “treatment” with “immunization or vaccination.”.
Bledsoe [01:00:12] All right.
Hammer [01:00:13] OK. As you move on down, in verse, verse– sorry, I thought I was in church. Line 18. Sorry. Line 18. Gotta keep a sense of humor. Line 18, it says a specific exemption process, which is really what this bill is all about is creating that exemption process for those who do not want to be mandated to take the, to take the vaccine. And so– and I’m sorry, Madam Chair, I’m just reading down the amendment to make sure I don’t look over anything. Line 22, we remind– we, we eliminated Line 22, which was the one time per week. Correct me if I’m wrong, I think the rationale behind taking that out–
Ballinger [01:01:02] Well, it’s– yeah. So it’s actually–
Hammer [01:01:09] Go ahead and speak to it if you want to.
Ballinger [01:01:13] All right, so line 22 was what is amended. Sorry. Line 22 is amended to– and it’s just in the, in the language. So that’s just the– the first amendment that you see on the– if you’re looking at the amendment that says Page 2, Line 22 delete, it’s just deleting the, the A function and it’s modifying it down here. So we’ll just read it real quick and then I’ll, I’ll tell you what it does. OK, so what, what happened in this, this section– so if you see they deleted it and they replaced it with the language down here, the dealing with the proof of immunity. So, so basically this whole, whole section was deleted and it was replaced down there. And Senator Hammer can explain that.
Hammer [01:02:08] And what it was replaced with was “proof of immunity for the variants that causes the COVID 19 or its variants.” Because we know it’s a, it’s a moving model. “Including without limitations the presence of antibodies, T cell response or proof of a positive COVID 19 test or the variants test on the basis of two times per year, not to exceed one time every six months from a licensed health care professional.” So in layman’s terms, what it means is if you can prove that you had it and you might have to do that once every six months, because that’s kind of the current status of the variation or the possibility of variations, it would eliminate you from having to do the testing. Also, if you had, as I’ve heard testimony in the room today, you’ve got COVID 19 last month, you verify that through a health care medical provider, which could have been the E.R., Med Express, your PCP, or whoever you would have went to that would have said or you produced tests that shows, then you would, you would be eliminated from having to worry about that testing. That’s why that was written in there. Is that right?
Ballinger [01:03:13] That’s right.
Hammer [01:03:14] OK. Moving on down. The employee– if, if tests– if multiple proven test processes are available to an employee under this subsection of which we crafted it so that– and]Senator Irvin actually contributed this piece to the, to the bill. It is written because there are new tests that are coming out every day that are becoming not only more accessible but also more affordable. And the reason that the language was written the way it was, so that as new tests come onto the market, we won’t be limited to saying it’s this, this or this, and then we’re out of here and new things become available and those things won’t be able to be introduced into the conversation. So we’ve made it possible that as more tests become available, accessible, affordable, that those could be made available the way the language is written. Anything– all right, on page 3, lines 4 through 10– and this is what was substituted as a result of the discussion that occurred in the House. And I’d like to– so from lines 3– I’m sorry lines 4 down through 10– lines 4 down through 10 would be deleted. And this is the amended language, and I’d like to read out loud for the benefit of those that are in the room that don’t have it. “The cost of the testing shall be covered through any state or federal funding made available, including without limitation COVID 19 relief funds distributed from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, if the employee’s health insurance plan does not cover the cost of the testing. B”– and this is what I want everybody to listen up to and then I’ll give the explanation for why. In the event that the cost of the testing under subdivision which I just read of this section is not available, the cost of testing will be covered by the employee. Somewhere, some way, it had to stop with someone. And it stops with the employee. And some may like that. Some may think that’s over burdensome on the employee. But for their common consensus, we left it at that in the event that they’re not covered by their health insurance plan for the ability to get that testing. But remember, if you’ve already had it, and you can produce the evidence that you’ve already had it, then that would cover for it. But if the testing is required, then if your health plan does not cover for it and there are not additional funds that are set aside, which I know it is the intent of some legislators to make that money available– and DFA may come in a minute and talk. If they do, we’ll address what they’ve got to say potentially. But if not, we’ll leave it alone. But we would intend to ask for some money to be set aside. In the bill, we’ve designated DFA to develop the rules for how that would be dispersed so that employees could seek reimbursement for the cost of the test. And so we have built that into the language, which is further down. And I’ve just articulated that, so I won’t go into details, but that’s what, that’s what is written into the legislation. It goes down, and I think that’s the essence on the nuts of the bill, except for the emergency clause. Am I missing anything?
Ballinger [01:06:34] One thing that, that I’d point out is that we were asked to make sure that we included language to make it clear that this does not modify either other agreements that, that there may be between the employer, employee or modify our employment at will. So that this– it specifically– the clause specifically says that employment at will is still intact, subject to, of course, the provisions of this act.
Hammer [01:06:58] Which was important to the business community that we make sure that we do keep the employee at will status. And so it is written into, written into the bill. The other thing I want to point out that’s critical for you to note is on the back page of the bill. It’s Line 2 through 3, there’s a sunset clause on this. That is July 31st, 2023. The reason we put the sunset clause in the bill is because this is such a moving issue and such a moving target. We wanted to make sure not to create something into perpetuity, but we wanted to be able as legislators be able to come back in the general session of ’23 and be able to address any changes or modifications that we needed to make to it based on input from the public, you know, how, quite honestly, how things turn out in the election and what the environment is going to be at the federal level and at the state level after the ’22. But it would give us that chance to come back in during the general session, where this would not be done in a short period of time, could be done in a general session time, which is usually anywhere between 60 and 90 days. The reason for the emergency clause is this– and again, I want everybody in the room to understand this. We get this passed out of this committee and it gets to the floor, and we can get at least 18 members of the Senate to vote on it on the floor, we would have to turn around and ask for 24 votes in order to get the emergency clause, which would mean the bill would go into effect immediately as soon as it’s signed. If we can’t get the emergency clause but the bill goes through, it would have a 90 day lag time. And somebody wiser than me– correct me if I’m wrong on what I’m saying– but it would go in effect in 90 days. We felt that was too long of a period to wait given the environment, especially the testimony of the young lady a while ago that had her, had her card– and I don’t want to call the wrong name of the institution that she works for, but I hope we didn’t give them money if they fired you– that, that for people like that, it is happening daily right now. We know what happened up in the state of New York, I think, in the last day or two where they terminated a bunch of health care workers. We want to get this done through an emergency status to give our employees protection, but also to give our employers who want to be able to say, you know what, we’ve got protection for you, here’s the guidelines for how you can do it. Let’s work together as a team to make sure it happens. Madam Chair, I’ll be glad– or we– do y’all have anything to add?
Bledsoe [01:09:25] All right. We’re going–
Hammer [01:09:27] Be glad to answer your questions.
Bledsoe [01:09:27] All right. Thank you. Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [01:09:30] Thank you, Madam Chair. This bill has been on the table for quite a while. Have you had any indications from the hospital association, from Mr. Zook or other businesses that they’re willing to back off of terminating hundreds, if not thousands of Arkansans, until we have a chance to work through this? Have they contacted you at all?
Hammer [01:09:50] I’ve had– I’ve been contacted by Jodiane, which we tried to work through one piece of the language on here. I appreciate their contribution. I’m not sure it’s exactly what she wanted, but it got close. I think she can sit at the table. But she’s being cooperative in trying to communicate, provide some information. I have not been contacted by any organization that represents industries within the state, but I have heard from my individual businesses that have expressed the things that I commented on on here today.
Sullivan [01:10:17] I guess, just a little bit of a nuance to that. So I’m asking specifically, have they been willing to back off of terminating people until– because it’s going to take a few days to work through and people are already being fired. So have any of those industries indicated they’re willing to back off until we have a chance to pass this?
Hammer [01:10:38] I’ve not had that comment made to me, but what I will tell you is what some of my businesses have told me is hurry up and get it done so we’ve got something to protect us.
Sullivan [01:10:44] OK, thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Hammer [01:10:47] Madam Chair, I need to say also because I’m not sure who may come up behind the table– one of the things just for disclaimer, this bill may be in direct conflict with what will come down out of the federal level once CMS or OSHA passes their rules, which supposedly are supposed to happen any day now. Whether that happens or not, I don’t want to voice an opinion on. But it needs to be duly noted that this piece of legislation could go in direct conflict with whatever may be coming down, and we may go head to head with the federal government who’s threatening to pull federal funding from institutions. So I heard based on the rules that would come down, so I feel obligated to put that out there so everybody knows at least it was put out in the public for comment.
Bledsoe [01:11:33] All right, thank you. Any questions from the committee? Any questions from the committee? All right. Seeing none, we’re going to go to for and against. We’re going to take for at this– I’m sorry, we’re going to take against. Mr. Gilmore with the department– State Department of Health. Would you come to the end of the table?
Gilmore [01:12:05] Matt Gilmore, Department of health. I think we were on the bill, Madam Chair, I don’t think we were listed as against. Justed wanted to, wanted to clarify that. I think some of the amendments that have been made are helpful. One thing that we just wanted to comment on was the testing. Once per week. We feel like that would be better if it was at least twice a week. I think there’s been some guidance on both sides of that argument, but we thought that, that would be important. And then also on the testing for natural immunity, at least, you know, every three months on that just because we don’t have a threshold for that set yet on a– from the CDC or from any kind of testing standard there. So I just wanted to throw those out there. And then also with the language about, you know, whether you should allow the exemptions or not as far as the– and using the testing and the natural immunity, it’s not real clear whether it’s for exposed individuals or if it’s surveillance testing. So I just wanted to make those comments.
Bledsoe [01:13:06] All right. Questions from the committee? All right, Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [01:13:11] So I can be clear when I go to the floor to testify for this bill, I can truthfully say that the Health Department has no opposition?
Gilmore [01:13:19] [01:13:19]We spoke on the bill.
Sullivan [01:13:21] [01:13:21]You have comment but you have no opposition.
Gilmore [01:13:21] [01:13:21]We have comments and we spoke on the bill, sir.
Sullivan [01:13:24] [01:13:24]But there’s no opposition to the bill?
Gilmore [01:13:28] [01:13:28]I think–
Bledsoe [01:13:30] [01:13:30]I think he answered the question.
Gilmore [01:13:30] [01:13:30]–it’s probably the best bill that this body is going to be able to get through and meet the needs and demands that y’all are– put upon y’all.
Sullivan [01:13:36] [01:13:36]Okay, I’m going to testify that the Health Department has no opposition unless I hear differently from you. Thank you.
Bledsoe [01:13:41] All right, Mrs. Martin. You signed up. Jacqueline, I believe? Yes. And please state your name and where you’re from for the record, please. And you’re speaking for.
Martin [01:14:00] Thank you. Hi, my name is Jackie Martin. I’m state director for Convention of States. And some of you voted for us and I appreciate that very much. And I also appreciate Senator Bledsoe allowing me to speak today. You know, I try to be real simple. My main motto in life is, keep it simple, stupid. It’s like the kiss philosophy. And I’ve had 17 years as an H.R. manager, journalist, and also 27 years of implementing human resource applications for Oracle, where I had to know federal law on employment and everything else. And there’s also another saying that says if you are not a student of history, you are doomed to repeat it. So if you go back in the U.S. history, you will find that there’s always been an oppositional position between corporate America and workers. And the government has had to come in to preserve the rights of the workers. We’ve started in 1933 with Fair Labor Standards Act because the labor unions occurred. We also have ERISA bills for benefits that affect our employees and OSHA rules for safety. And you can go on and on and on and on and on. Corporate America will abuse employees’ rights if given the chance. And I think this is one of those situations. And let me just say, before we started doing legislation, we had corporations in America that had employee stores. They paid them, but they had to spend their money at their stores. So we have a situation here where employers will pay you if you get a vaccine, will keep you employed if you get a vaccine. They are removing personal self-governance and personal responsibility from their employees. That is not the right of corporations. But it is the authority of the government to preserve the rights of employees not only in this state but in the United States, because, as Senator Hammer said, we are in this situation because of the Biden administration. I’m not afraid to say their name. And they know that they cannot constitutionally authorize or enforce or mandate any vaccination for any citizen in the United States. So they are using the corporations of America to do their dirty business. So that is the first time that’s ever happened in the history of the United States. We have a form of government called federalism. We are unique in the world because of that form of government. We expect our states to protect our rights as human beings to govern ourselves. That is the number one premise upon which the United States was founded. And it’s also found in the Arkansas State Constitution. So when you all consider voting for this bill, which I’m not totally happy with everything in it, I’ll be the first one to say that. But I understand that is a halfway measure to meet Corporations’ requirements because they’re going to get pressure from the Biden administration. But please keep in mind that the rights of the citizens should be a number one consideration by our legislators. And I appreciate your attention and giving me the opportunity to speak today. Thank you very much.
Bledsoe [01:17:36] Just a minute. We’d like to– we have someone that wants to ask you a question. Senator Flippo.
Flippo [01:17:41] Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair. And thank you, Mrs. Martin, for your testimony. Just a quick question. Should this bill pass today, can I get your assurances that I will no longer receive any emails on the Convention of States that this General Assembly passed over two and a half years ago?
Martin [01:17:57] Absolutely, you will not. I’ll make sure that stops.
Flippo [01:17:59] Madam, Chairman, motion do pass the time at the proper time.
Martin [01:18:02] I can’t guarantee though on any other measure, though.
Bledsoe [01:18:06] All right. Any other questions? Seeing none, thank you so very much. All right. Any– I’m– we usually go for and against. I’m asking Alan McVey to go to the end of the table. He’s from DFA and he is against. And you are welcome, and when you’re ready, you’re recognized.
McVey [01:18:36] Thank you, Madam Chairman. I represent DFA from– as chief of staff, and we’re speaking to our concerns with respect to the potential cost of the testing. And as the testing was designed within and eligible activity within the American Rescue Plan, I don’t know that it was necessarily seen as covering the type of test and the type of process that we’re describing here today. So the purpose of my being here is to really kind of make sure that we understand what the potential cost to the American Rescue Plan, what the limitations of the money might be. So if we’re talking tens of thousands of employees across the state and weekly required testing, and the measure that, as it’s presented, extends that period of time out for a period of 95 weeks out to July of 2023. So the testing cost to the state could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And I just want, from a standpoint of if an average test costs $100 at 75,000 employees over a period of that extended period of time, we’re looking at $700-plus million from a standpoint of cost. And I, just from, from our perspective at DFA, we just want to make sure that you are aware of that and that you recognize that as we move forward.
Bledsoe [01:19:59] All right. Thank you. We have Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [01:20:06] Yes. Where did you come up with $100? Because my understanding is there are tests, over the counter tests and other tests that cost far less than that.
McVey [01:20:14] And I, Senator Sullivan, I’ve seen that as well. And I mean, if you go into Walgreens and you get an over-the-counter test, it’s $23, $25. However, I think for the purpose of testing, most are going to require a PCR test. And those types of tests average anywhere from– my understanding, and I’m not the authority on testing costs. I look for average costs and those are anywhere from $100 to $150.
Sullivan [01:20:40] Okay.
McVey [01:20:41] So we used $100 in our calculations. The other concern we would have would be that if this gives opportunity for employee or self-insured based plans to opt out, that those costs would be transferred to the state if there was another opportunity for funding.
Sullivan [01:20:57] Ok, fair enough. And so again, you’re not testifying against the bill, you’re just providing information?
McVey [01:21:03] No, sir. I’m testifying against the bill from the standpoint that we feel like that the cost would be significant and that the American Rescue Plan resources may not be adequate to sustain that.
Sullivan [01:21:11] OK. All right. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [01:21:16] All right, Senator Hanmer.
Hammer [01:21:19] Thank you, Madam Chair. And, Alan, thanks for being here and being in a position that you’re in. I think and maybe other members– because this a little bit awkward. I’m presenting the bill, but I’m asking questions. But I want the memory of the legislators that were in the room this morning, it seemed like the number 3,000 was thrown out by somebody it represents businesses. Am I remembering– does anybody remember that? I’m just wondering. You said hundreds of thousands. How did you substantiate that hundreds of thousands would– I know what it was. How do you substantiate that hundreds of thousands would possibly be available for this when illustrations were used this morning that showed that a very small minority of employee– employers have employees that are not vaccinated. So I’m just trying to come– how did you get hundreds of thousands?
McVey [01:22:09] I think the concern that was expressed to us was that there was approximately 1.3 million, 1.39 million people who are employed across the state of Arkansas.
Hammer [01:22:18] How many are vaccinated today?
McVey [01:22:20] My understanding is it’s somewhere in the 60 percent range that have at least one shot. I’m not sure what that number is of individuals who are fully vaccinated.
Hammer [01:22:32] And did DFA take in consideration in the calculations that you presented today that this bill allows for the option of being able to use that money, but does not necessarily mandate that that money would have to be used, number one. Number two, that if a current employee who is not vaccinated but has received or has had COVID 19 could produce that as means to not be terminated because they would not receive the vaccine as mandated, mandated, and that the employee would pick up the cost of the test. When you ran your calculations, did you include those three key points in determining the numbers that are scary numbers that have been thrown out today?
McVey [01:23:15] No, sir, I did not.
Hammer [01:23:16] OK, so, I would just say then– I would call into question, respectfully, because I do respect you and DFA. I really do. But I would call into question throwing those kind of numbers out in the public when testimony is that for the options that are allowed in this bill were not taken in consideration in the formula that you presented. And I’d just like to note that for the record. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Bledsoe [01:23:45] All right. Senator Sullivan.
Sullivan [01:23:48] May I follow up on that? Yeah, just to follow up on what the senator says. Could we have the data upon which those calculations were made? Because given the number of people that are employed in the state, the number of unemployment, employment numbers, anticipated businesses that will not require this, it seems like there are a number of data points that one have to consider even considering what the risk is. I understand. You have to figure what the maximum risk is. I’d just like to see the calculations at how you achieved that number so that when we present on the floor, we’ll be able to present accurate numbers on that. So I’d appreciate that.
Bledsoe [01:24:31] Mr. McVay, would you mind sending a copy to Mr. Price and then he’ll distribute it to the members of the Health Committee?
McVey [01:24:38] I will certainly do that, Madam Chairman.
Bledsoe [01:24:39] Thank you so much. All right. Any other questions for Mr. McVay? We so appreciate you being here. Thank you very much for your testimony. All right. We’re going to those who are for. If you would like to come down and state your name for the record, please. And if– we can be here another couple of hours or maybe more than that, but if everyone would try to be succinct and not say the same thing. So tell us your name and, and for the record, please, and where you’re from.
Highsmith [01:25:18] All right. Thank you again. I’m Dr. William Highsmith from Sheridan. A couple of points that I want to make in general. One, to answer your question, sir, I have a small family practice. We have nine employees, so we have no mass purchasing power. A rapid COVID test costs us– our cost is $7 per test. The PCR test from a reference lab that we use is $50 for the PCR test. So they are considerably less expensive than was just quoted. That’s one, one point that I would like to make with regard to, you know, the recent testimony from the gentleman from the Department of Finance and Administration. What I would like to say with regard to the bill and which I do– I am for the bill. I think there are some again– and I understand that there’s compromises that have to be made in getting anything done and anything through in a process like this is remembering that, you know, each one of you out here have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. I took an oath to defend the Constitution many years ago. Then I took another oath to the Hippocratic Oath in which we do no harm is one of the tenets of that. With regard to that, anything where we’re mandating these vaccines is a large potential to do harm. As I believe Dr. Smith earlier mentioned, there’s so much that we do not know with regard to how how these vaccines are going to affect our children, their children, the potential to have children. You know, I’ve personally seen patients that have gotten the vaccines and died from the vaccines. I have seen patients that were fully vaccinated, they got COVID and died. I’ve seen all of it from day one. If we allow this process to go forward for the corporations, you know, like the gentleman from the Chamber of Commerce that had brought up about the money, the donations, the votes– that’s what really he seemed to be talking to, you know, from my perspective about was bringing that forward that, you know, pressuring you to sort of move in their direction because they’ve got the money and the votes. Having these vaccine mandates would put blood on their hands from the people that we’re going to– that’s going to end up being– losing their jobs, which then going to increase suicidal rates and, you know, losing everything they have if they lose their jobs. If we don’t do anything about it and allow that to happen, that blood is going to be on our hands as well. And we can’t and that’s an unacceptable situation. You know, there’s no amount of money that is going to buy our way out of hell if we allow things like this to continue and we keep going down the road that we’re going.
Bledsoe [01:28:31] All right. Thank you so much for your testimony. Any questions from the committee? All right. Seeing none, thank you so much for being here.
Highsmith [01:28:39] Thank you. All right, I’m gonna go down this list. But ladies and gentlemen, please keep it succinct. And maybe some of you who have heard all of this would not want to testify. We have no one else to speak against. And I will call these names out– I’m going to start with the one that I don’t remember having spoken on anything. Yes, sir.
Unknown audience [01:29:04] I apologize, but did I hear you say that you’re not going to be bringing up 736 or 737?
Bledsoe [01:29:12] It’s, it’s not my decision to do that if the sponsor, the senator who’s bill this is does not want to. Maybe he has changed his mind or maybe he wants to do something else, I don’t know.
Unknown audience [01:29:28] [unintelligible] and this does kind of go with what they just discussed. [unintelligible] Would it be okay if I–
Bledsoe [01:29:40] Let me go down the list first, all right? All right. I’m going to start with Mrs. Jones. I don’t remember– OK, I don’t think she has spoken today. All right, you are recognized. Please state your name and where you’re from for the record.
Jones [01:30:10] Hi, Adina Jones.
Bledsoe [01:30:14] And excuse me, just a minute. Everyone listened intently, especially those that want to speak for and make sure that you’re not repeating what Miss Jones is saying. Thank you. Go ahead.
Jones [01:30:26] I feel like I’m bringing a little bit different perspective than anyone’s brought today, but it’s mostly an encouragement. Before I get started, I would like to bring up the Republican Party of Arkansas Platform 20, our principles. And the very first one on there is the power of faith in God Almighty. OK, I’m an RN of 22 years, mostly ICU. I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m only anti-Covid vaxxer. OK, and I’ve came to this conclusion after I did a lot of time of intense research, staying up at night. I have more time than I think most people do to come to my conclusion. And that’s how I made my informed decision. I also would like to mention that my daddy was– is– my late daddy is a retired, retired sergeant major from the Army, active duty. And I love our country. What I’m about to present to you is– my voice is cracking because I’m nervous. I’m sorry. Is collaboration from health care workers, pastors. The health care workers include doctors and nurses and other Christians. They’ve poured into this letter. It’s been months, months and months of work, and I’ll make sure that each of you get this in your emails because there’s also references greater than 20 pages that you can refer to. OK. And all the people that are represented in this voice, some are vaccinated and some are not. OK. And this letter started out and it’s titled– and don’t get distracted by this– encouragement and biblical perspective to Christian health care workers for unification in medical freedom of choice. But it has evolved into encouragement and guidance for and from many Christians. It has caught fire, and it’s the reason I’m sending it to you, to you today as individual Christians in the Republican Party and even those outside of the Republican Party that are Christians. And do you understand how this could pertain to you today as lawmakers and to these bills today before I move on? Is that OK? OK, I’m going to move on. OK. All right. We are Christians first and then Americans. Our country was founded by imperfect evangelical Christians as easily evidenced in the Declaration of Independence, but also in the sense that they carried with them. Our founding fathers searched the scriptures for the biblical principles they believe God wanted in place as they formed our constitution. Our country was set up under the authority of God. Knowing Biblical principles are what produce freedom of society. Ultimately, our constitution was written without mentioning of the word God because the founding fathers knew the governor of all history and the affairs of all men began all creation with freedom of choice. The creator of the universe even allows the choice to choose him as lord over each of our lives. It would be hypocritical to begin a nation with forced religion when that is exactly what they escaped. It became we the people. We’ve had a long time in our land that God in the USA were viewed hand in hand as an expectation in the norm. This has a lot to do with the security and freedom in their worldly and their biblical definitions. We cannot deny that this has become harder to visualize at times, but we must remember that the only constants are one, change, and two, God. God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, and we are both challenged and can rest in also knowing that if one Christian is in the land he is in the land. Also as evidence from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, it is not in God’s character to want to turn his back on any creation. Where does our authority come from? In Romans 13 it is clear the authority of government was put into place by God. This includes who is in government authority now and we are to abide by their authority as long as their law and demands do not go against the creator and his commands. When Jesus himself walked the Earth, he said, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, the taxes, and to the Lord what is the Lord, your heart, soul, mind and strength and love for your neighbor. This New Testament command made clear that government was a separate kingdom from the Kingdom of God, Mark 12:17. This living word applies today. At this point in the story and history, it is a known to our kingdom that if Caesar asks us to sin, we are not to bow. This was already established and demonstrated in the Old Testament by many stories, but especially Meshack, Shadrach and Abednego. And they could not bow to the king and his false idol, sin, as many around them did to escape the king’s threatened death, Daniel 3. Faith in the Lord before faith in our knowledge and practice, and that’s to specifically medical. We are aware that lack of humility, half truths and deceits are sins and not operating in the truth as defined by our word and the Holy Spirit of Truth. The events of the pandemic, but especially leading up to the vaccine, have been bathed in half truths and deceitful language, word salads, lies by omissions, understandable human error, but with lack of humility and transparency. This could easily be argued from both sides of the vaccine aisle. OK, but that would defeat our purpose of unification. Perhaps our country has put too much responsibility or faith in the advice of one man, few advisers, sources in media, social media, fact checkers, non-medical public leaders and science contributing to the dissension and polarized information. Discernment has become a necessity for us. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your path straight. Health care workers as imperfect people can become blinded and easily lose sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s lead, lead by faith in the science and medicine before faith in the Lord and in his word and his promises. Most likely, we all agree the Lord has always had a place in medicine, but it is imperative to recognize him as a great physician first before acting within it. Science and Faith are not at war. Science, when done in honesty, only proves there is a creator and that creator matches the holy Bible. Pre-COVID, we were all very clear that science and the practice of medicine has never been an exact science ever. We know what works for one patient might not the next and in the same way or at all. The demand in full belief of a universal cure, treatment, vaccine or even medicine led by imperfect science or fear would be unwise for individual Christians to act out and force upon their neighbor, brothers and sisters. We have seen some people presently need healing to be through and with medicine, and some only need prayer. Isn’t that final conversation between the Lord and the individual? In love, we are to meet every person, believer or unbeliever, where they stand in their walk and encourage them in the Lord. The next part is specifically for injections of the vaccine for us to consider as people. If medicine cannot agree on what is truth by research and evidence, but forces an act anyway while there is dissension, is it truly operating in the truth? Isn’t the practice of medicine or belief in it in any form an act of faith? However, where does the truth and faith ultimately come from for us as Christians? We as Christians know we work to please the Lord and not man. And our help comes from the maker of heaven and Earth. His ways are not our ways, and his understanding is not our understanding. Can we be united on the basis that we all have different functions as one body in Christ, not one more important than the next? Are we not called to individually seek his guidance as each of our purpose and walks in faith might appear differently to spread the good news and his glorification? Isn’t it possible that the Lord’s plan and protection for one is unique to them? We all can hope the vaccine the was created to help humankind. And as the COVID 19 disease is harmful to some, and disease does not come from the Lord. It should be noted the vaccine is also proven harmful to some too. Both the disease and the vaccine remain with, with statistically reported low risk death. Rates of long term injuries from either cannot be fully known yet. If we consider there is a possibility the vaccine did not come from God, but fleshly desires, do we still believe that he is sovereign over all things and can turn anything meant for evil to good? A promise from God states no weapon that is formed against us, the church as a whole, shall prosper. That’s in Isaiah. However, some of us, as injectors are called to another consideration, unprecedented question. We’ve never had this before in health care. Upon performing medicine in the form of a mandated vaccine, if the vaccinee announced to you that they did not want this procedure but presented to you under coercion of another man, should you proceed? Can the Christian injector turn a blind eye and proceed to touch the coerced by man, vaccinee’s body or believer’s temple in an unwanted manner, saying this procedure will be OK to perform on my neighbor because I’m covered by federal state, state law? Has it been considered the vaccinee he was initially being led by the spirit of the Lord to not vaccinate? And our encouragement needed in that moment to follow the Lord supersedes any government fear or belief in medicine. For Christian health care workers, it has been easy to let a patient refuse a treatment or intervention, no matter how much we believe said intervention would help the patient. Not only would we support their final decision, but we would advocate for it. In hospitals, we were certainly released from liability of any outcome by the patient bill of Rights and Responsibilities. However, the push to advocate for that patient would stem from a human God- given natural knowledge of choice, hopefully paired with the word that quote, we are called to freedom to serve one another in love. That’s from Galatians. After educating to our best abilities, we trusted each person with their own choice and consequences and ultimately trusted in the Lord’s control and will to be done. With any amount of collective humility, we would admit patients– we would admit patients have proven to be correct over our knowledge before. I’m closing, OK. Hang in there. Turning a blind eye in medicine and this includes food and cosmetics, we cannot talk about our freedom of choice and not mention the excipients of the American vaccines HEK 293 and PCR C6. The word excipient is used for other ingredients in development, production or testing of a vaccine. HEK 293 PCR 6 came from fetuses that were electively terminated. Many of us do not realize the history of vaccines or even the recent medical and scientific research using aborted babies up to full term to further our field. Baby HEK, a girl, was born upon elective termination of pregnancy in 1973– too, too much?
Bledsoe [01:40:52] Too much. We love the subject matter and we’re glad that you brought it.
Jones [01:40:58] May I say my conclusion?
Bledsoe [01:40:59] How long will your conclusion be?
Jones [01:41:01] It’s not– look, it’s right there. Thank you so much.
Bledsoe [01:41:04] All right. Now, if it’s long– I can’t see from here. But if it’s long, I’m gonna have to bring the hammer down again.
Jones [01:41:10] I’ll listen for you. And I respect that. Christian health care workers have always been called to be different. Christians in general, we’ve been called to be different. As we grow in wisdom and the longer we are in this fallen world, we should feel less belonging. The realization comes that we are on temporary assignment as we were created with eternity in our hearts. There is chance, there is a chance the Christian health care community is being set aside and sifted for such a time as this. But this is the point, OK? Freedom of choice did not originate in America, but with creation. And this is our united front. We are a holy nation, united, no matter where our feet stand, vaccination status, political party, race, culture.
Bledsoe [01:41:46] Thank you so much. Any questions from the committee? Seeing none, thank you very much for being here.
Unknown Senator [01:41:54] Madam Chair, I’d like to make a motion for immediate consideration.
Bledsoe [01:41:55] All right. We have a motion for immediate consideration. That’s non debatable. We have a second. Committee members, all in favor say aye. All those opposed. All right. Committee– members in the audience consider, consider this as the end of this bill. It’s non debatable. And now we’re going to vote. Well, I guess we’ll just give– now wait a minute. Senator Hammer, if you want to close, you can. But I think you–
Hammer [01:42:24] 30 seconds, ma’am.
Bledsoe [01:42:25] 30 seconds. All right.
Hammer [01:42:26] I want to, I want to acknowledge and say thank you to Matt Gilmore with Department of Health, with Alan McVay from DFA and from Jodiane Tritt with the Hospital Association. And I just thank you for them being here and, and just voicing the concerns that we all know that when we vote on this that we’ll be dealing with, but I think it’s worth the risk to go forward. And appreciate a good vote.
Bledsoe [01:42:51] All right. You’ve heard from the sponsor. We have a motion as amended. All right. And second. All those in favor say Aye. All those opposed. Congratulations, you have passed your bill.
Hammer [01:43:07] Thank you, Madam Chair. Members, committee.
Bledsoe [01:43:08] All right. We go– we go– is Senator Clark in the, in the audience. There he is. All right. It’s my understanding, Senator Clark, that you are going to pass the other bills that you have and go to SB 740. Is that correct?
Clark [01:43:24] That is correct, madam chair.
Bledsoe [01:43:25] All right. All right. Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, go to the last bill in your stack and it’s SB 740. And you are recognized to explain your bill.
Clark [01:43:38] Thank you, Madam Chair. I will be, I believe, very quick. I passed the other two bills. They were inadvertently filed. They are all the same bill with 740 being the final version with the emergency clause in it. The– 740, I thought you should hear and should be presented because I heard a lot and you’ve heard a lot, I would assume, about the Montana law. And so I went to BLR and said take the Montana law and let’s put it in a bill. Well, it turns out that what we passed in session had most of the Montana law already. So I took the bill– I took the law that– they took the law that we already had and we amended it. We took public employers, which was all- we had already created and on page– the first difference is on Page 2, Line 11. But we’ll start with Line 10, the state, a state agency or entity, a political subdivision of the state, or a state or local official. Now what we had already done back in the winter is we had already said that government could not mandate a vaccine. What we add here, these words from the Montana law, is a private employer or a public accommodation. We just had those words because the rest was already here: shall not mandate or require an individual to receive a vaccine or immunization for coronavirus 2019 COVID 19. Now we’ve updated it a little bit. And then we’ve added, because their language from back in the spring is a little bit antiquated by now, if the vaccine or immune– because theirs said it hadn’t received FDA approval, which of course, some has– if the vaccine or immunization has been tested for less than five years or on the market for less than three years. Okay. So I like that language. Then we come over to Page 3. We’ll come to the next part of the thing that’s amendment– amended. And I’m going to start up on line 12. Well, I’ll just go down to 15. Excluding limiting, segregating, refusing to serve or otherwise discriminate against– discriminating against a person based on his or her vaccination status, that’s from the Montana law. Line 19, a private employer or a public accommodation recommends that individual in the state receive a vaccine or immunizations as you– that’s not prohibited. It just keeps adding private employer public accommodation where government was already included. And then Line 25 recommending a vaccination or immunization for coronavirus 2019 COVID 19 is not unlawful discrimination under this section. A health care facility does not unlawfully discriminate. So you need to know– the public needs to know, and you need to know– I’m not advocating this. It’s in my bill. But again, because so many people have asked for the Montana law, this is the Montana law. This excludes health care, which we have not previously done. But if we pass this bill, we will. But that’s the Montana law. So we need to– as those who have advocated for that, if we do that, that’s what we will do. And it goes on as we go down to Page 4 Line 8, a healthcare facility is exempt. Now you can read the rest of that. And then there’s the emergency clause. I’ll be happy to take any questions.
Bledsoe [01:47:53] All right, committee, do you have any questions for Senator Clark? All right. Seeing none, we will go to those in the audience that would like to speak for the bill. And there was a man over in the corner that didn’t get to speak on the last bill. I don’t know who was standing over there, but if he’s still in the– he has left. I’m sorry. All right, we have Craig Matthews. All right. If you would like to speak for this bill.
Matthews [01:48:31] Thank you, ma’am. I will keep it as short as possible, I promise that. Thank you again, Madam Chair, and members, for your kind attention. I will try to keep this as short as possible, but there is some relevant information I feel that you may be able to use going forward to be aware of. So just on the issue of mandating vaccines and the passports, which are effectively the same thing in this regard. I’d just like to read you some documents from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. These may also be relevant to the gentleman from the Department of Health and DFA. So number one, from Pub Med, informed consent disclosure to vaccine trial subjects of risk of COVID 19 vaccines worsening clinical disease. Quote results of the study. COVID 19 vaccines designed to elicit neutralizing antibodies may sensitize vaccine recipients to more severe disease than if they were not vaccinated. Second article from the National Institutes of Health vaccine induced enhancement of viral infections. Quote examples of vaccine induced enhancement of susceptibility to virus infection have been documented for infections by members of different virus families. Certain experimental antiviral vaccines even prove to be counterproductive. They rendered vaccinated subjects more susceptible to infection rather than protecting them. Consequently, vaccine induced enhancement has been a major stumbling block in the development of certain flabby corona para paparmixo, I believe, and lentivirus vaccines. I’ll try to get through this quickly, I promise. America– Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics COVID 19 vaccination– vaccination associated myocarditis in adolescents. Results 63 patients with a mean age of 15.6 years were included. 92 percent were male. All had received an MRNA vaccine, an MRNA vaccine and except for one presented myocarditis following the second dose. Just to repeat that very quickly, all had received and except for one out of 63, presented myocarditis following the second dose. This is from the American Academy of Pediatrics. And I won’t go through these others because I think I made the point and I want to respect the members’ time. I know that most of the work will be done on the floor after we get through this committee, which had been very amiable to the concerns of the people. But just one more for your view. This is from Cornell University, published under the Alliance for Science Consortium. The title is yes, some COVID vaccines use genetic engineering. Get over it. This is from Cornell University, published under the Alliance for Science, and it says though some of them do use genetic engineering and all of them use genetics more broadly– they make a bit of a joke here– RM– MRNA won’t reprogram your brain– obviously a joke– but it does reprogram some of your cells in a manner of speaking, and that’s not a defect. It’s intentional. And they consulted with the manufacturers on this. And that’s all I have to say. Thank you for your kind attention, members. I appreciate it.
Bledsoe [01:51:33] All right. Any questions for– any questions in questions from the committee? All right, seeing none, thank you so much. Appreciate you being here.
Matthews [01:51:44] Thank you, ma’am.
Bledsoe [01:51:45] All right. We’re going to have Mr. Alan McVey from DFA. He is against.
McVey [01:52:04] Alan McVay from the Department of Finance and Administration.
Bledsoe [01:52:08] You’re recognized.
McVey [01:52:08] Thank you, Madam Chair. Just from a standpoint that our concern from DFA would be that if any of the costs associated with this piece of legislation, with respect to Senator Clark, if those costs were to be passed through or to be expected from the American Rescue Plan, that it’s our consultant’s review that none of the costs associated would be eligible items under the American Rescue Plan for potential future funding.
Bledsoe [01:52:40] All right. Any questions from the committee? All right. Senator Wallace. Oh, oh, he was waving. OK, well, hello, cousin. All right. Senator Hammer, you’re recognized.
Hammer [01:52:58] Thank you, Madam Chair. And I’ll direct this to either one of you. Because if I understood what you said, Senator Clark, let me put it to you. This is modeled after the Montana law. Is that correct?
Clark [01:53:10] Yes. I directed BLR– they, they took the Montana law. And, and once they got it, they found that our law, except for private employer, was almost exactly Montana law.
Hammer [01:53:24] OK. And so has there been any challenge in Montana as to the source of the funding that might have had to been accessed in order to facilitate the passage of their law?
Clark [01:53:37] I will have to– let me correct myself. We added the funding. The Montana law did not have the funding. We added the funding to it, Senator Hammer.
Hammer [01:53:49] All right. Thank you.
Clark [01:53:50] Thank you for bringing that out because I did not mean to speak incorrectly.
Hammer [01:53:53] All right, thank you.
Clark [01:53:55] Montana law plus funding.
Hammer [01:53:57] Plus, plus funding. Thank you.
Bledsoe [01:53:59] All right. Do you have any other comments? All right. Any– thank you so much, Mr. McVey. Appreciate you being here. All right. Any other questions from the committee? All right.
Flippo [01:54:15] I have a motion for immediate consideration.
Bledsoe [01:54:17] OK, we have a motion for immediate consideration. Second. This is a non debatable motion. What is the pleasure? Do you want to close? I don’t think– I’m not sure. Just a minute. Let me see. I’m sorry, but we are not going to give you a chance to close. We’re going right to the vote. So ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard the testimony. You’ve heard for and against. What is the pleasure of the committee? What is the pleasure of the committee? I’m sorry, Senator, your bill has failed for lack of a motion.
Clark [01:55:11] Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you, members of the committee.
Bledsoe [01:55:14] All right. Is any other business to come before the committee today? Before I bring down the gavel again, I want to thank the audience for being very, very gracious and very polite. It was a pleasure to have all of you and thank you for your testimonies. And with that, we are adjourned.