House Public Health
October 5, 2021
Ladyman [00:00:00] Anyone here that wishes to speak for or against the bill, please sign up. And we have a sheet out there, you can sign up. So committee, we have two bills this morning. And we will start– we’ll get into this because we have other meetings coming up later. So we’ll try to get this done before we have a conflict. So we’ll start with SB 732. Senator Johnson, if you would go to the end of the table to present your bill. Please introduce yourself for the record.
B Johnson [00:00:39] Senator Blake Johnson, District 20. Appreciate the opportunity to chair, members, to present this bill. My bill about coercion of the vaccine, vaccine is for all people in the state of Arkansas, not just in an employment situation. And it adds– in the Arkansas code, much like federal code is already, it has the medical contraindications and the religious, religious, religious exemption. In that, in Arkansas code now is philosophical beliefs. So we mirror that in Title 7 in Arkansas code in this Title 20. So that’s the exemptions that is in this bill. And, and whenever, whenever I changed with the amendments, there was a possible penalty for incentives for, for getting the vaccine, and that was not my intention. So I changed that on my end. So if you incentivize getting that as an employer, then you’re not, you’re not going to be under this as a coercion. And also it includes any other federal funding. And it does not include state funding. So how would this, how would this bill help anybody besides employment? If you’re a, if you’re a business owner, under persons, the definition of persons on Page 2, Line 7, any natural person corporation, firm, partnership, limited partnership, trust, association or any other legal or commercial entity. So this is not just for you as an individual, but those persons that we recognize. So if you’re a subcontractor or something for a business that is requiring the vaccine, you can’t be coerced without these exemptions being considered. So, that’s pretty much the bill in its entirety.
Ladyman [00:02:54] So, Senator, you said incentives are not in this bill.
B Johnson [00:02:58] No, they– if, if you give an incentive for getting the vaccine, that’s not– you know, it’s a positive. So on, on line 35, page 1 is where that is. However, other positive incentives that are above and beyond any expected compensations or benefit of unemployment shall not be included under the term coerce, so.
Ladyman [00:03:29] All right, any questions from the Committee? Representative Payton, you’re recognized for a question.
Payton [00:03:36] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senator, so we’ve all been focused a lot, and we had another bill earlier that dealt with the employer employee relationship. And I noticed this bill goes beyond that to citizen on citizen, but also business on business. So, you know, we’ve had, we’ve had– I’ve had calls and emails from businesses that had no intention of of implementing a mandate. But another business they do business with was trying to force them as a supplier to do a vaccine mandate. Is that what this bill addresses?
B Johnson [00:04:17] It is included with, with what the language in this bill because of the definition of person. So that would mean business with business also.
Payton [00:04:25] So a business that would want to require of its trading partner businesses–
B Johnson [00:04:33] Consideration for these exemptions would have to be in there.
Payton [00:04:37] Okay, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladyman [00:04:40] Rep. Boyd, you’re recognized for a question.
Boyd [00:04:43] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I just want to clarify, when I read this, I don’t see anything about a fine or this being a criminal act by the business or individuals to coerce. But 20-7-1 seems to be a criminal code, where it would make it a misdemeanor for every day that, that this happened. Is that my– am I understanding that correctly? Help me understand that.
B Johnson [00:05:07] [00:05:07]It would give them a possibility for a civil action if, if they can, you know, be– if, if these things were done, it would give them reason for civil action.
Boyd [00:05:21] [00:05:21]Follow up, Mr. Chair. Yes, you’re recognized.
Ladyman [00:05:23] [00:05:23]But it would not cause a misdemeanor, which would imply a criminal act.
B Johnson [00:05:28] [00:05:28]I hadn’t– I hadn’t seen that so.
Boyd [00:05:30] [00:05:30]Okay.
Ladyman [00:05:40] Any other questions? Rep. Bentley, you’re recognized.
Bentley [00:05:43] Representative Johnson, thank you for this. I have a bunch of subcontractors that have been talking to me daily about this. Would you agree that looking at– you know, I’m glad you brought the medically contraindicated that there are reported in the VAERS report over 750,000 reports of adverse reactions. And that gives– should give some persons and legitimize some persons concerns about medical contraindication–
B Johnson [00:06:06] Absolutely.
Bentley [00:06:06] –for this vaccine. Thank you, sir.
Ladyman [00:06:09] Representative Pilkington, you’re recognized for a question.
Pilkington [00:06:12] Thank you, Chairman Ladyman. Senator Johnson, can you give me a little more fleshed out kind of definition of, of philosophical beliefs and how that is different than someone’s religious beliefs? Can you give me some examples of when someone might have a philosophical belief that would prevent them from getting a vaccine that wouldn’t be a religious one?
B Johnson [00:06:35] Well, those, those were put in Arkansas code whenever religious belief was challenged. And I think it was put in Arkansas code in 2003 in the education immunization vaccination, so for the children in schools. Those who have not been defined and, and only allowed to be defined by the courts, typically. So, you know, the religious and philosophical are very similar. You can have philosophical beliefs without them being religious, deeply held philosophical beliefs without being a part of religion. And some people don’t have a religion and they have a philosophical belief system. So it gives– it’s, it’s more broad for the First Amendment to be considered. So that’s, that’s what was taken in court and the federal courts said, whenever ours was just religious, was thrown out and was included in the philosophical.
Pilkington [00:07:36] OK, thank you.
Ladyman [00:07:38] Representative Dodson, you’re recognized.
Dotson [00:07:41] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senator Johnson, as I’m reading through this, it seems to me as if the– you’d said that someone could bring a civil action, I guess, against an employer under this. I’m trying to find that in here. It looks to me as if the employee can only seek lost wages, according to the definition of this bill.
B Johnson [00:08:06] That’s a remedy that’s in here. Not all remedies– if you’re going to include that– all remedies– I mean, there would be a litany in every bill that we ever file.
Dotson [00:08:17] So it’s more expansive than what is just in–
B Johnson [00:08:19] I mean, that–
Dotson [00:08:21] –defined in the text.
B Johnson [00:08:22] It doesn’t limit that. I mean, I guess you could put that in the bill, but the– that’s a remedy that’s, that’s not considered now. But these other remedies are.
Dotson [00:08:34] And the, the lost wages that they would seek, it seems to be these would be payable by available federal funds exclusively?
B Johnson [00:08:46] Yes. The state funds– I did not mention that purposely because I do not want to get into our budget. So if there’s federal funds available, those ARPA funds run through the 23. They’ll be a midterm election and the possibility of, of changing how those funds are, are done or other funded federal funds for displacement through the actions that’s been taken prior to that.
Dotson [00:09:11] So if there are no federal funds available, the unemployment wages would not be, they would not be able to seek them under this.
B Johnson [00:09:20] Yeah, this is not– this is equal to. Just like whenever you’re– all the filings for the ARPA funds, this would be a possibility. This is not putting money into unemployment. This would be allowing them to ask us for, for those wages that is equal to unemployment.
Dotson [00:09:41] So it would be on top of unemployment, stacking it?
B Johnson [00:09:44] Well, if you, if you get something like that, then it affects your unemployment funds. So they’ll be a– you know, that would be income considered in unemployment, too.
Dotson [00:09:56] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:09:58] Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized.
Wardlaw [00:10:03] I’m going to follow Representative Boyd’s question. And he, he was actually on something, which is good. Rep. Boyd is very smart and that’s the reason I listen to him. When you look at section 20-7-101, which is what he was referring to on the misdemeanors and funds– this bill is actually going to be 20-7-136, which means that it will pertain to everything in that section so the answer is yes. This bill will create a misdemeanor and a fine for those persons that violate the things that this bill sets up for those subcontractors. Do you agree or disagree with that, Senator Johnson?
B Johnson [00:10:46] Well, there’s two smart guys saying it will, so I’ll agree with you.
Wardlaw [00:10:53] OK, but that’s somewhat devastating to our businesses, wouldn’t it be? A $500 fine, a “to a $500 fine.” Let me speak legally. I mean, I just pulled it all up and read it.
B Johnson [00:11:08] Not if they consider the exemptions that are already pretty much in, in federal law.
Wardlaw [00:11:12] So Mr. Chair, a follow up, please.
Ladyman [00:11:15] Yeah, but you got to stay on the subject. Intellectual ability is not on the subject.
Wardlaw [00:11:18] I am 100 percent on the subject. So if a hospital and a federal contractor cannot follow this law because CMS and the feds say X, you’re saying that we should fine those people because they didn’t follow the law because the superior being made them do one thing? Is that correct?
B Johnson [00:11:39] [00:11:39]Superior in what way?
Wardlaw [00:11:40] [00:11:40]Federal government. Federal government says everybody that takes Medicare and Medicaid is going to have to vaccinate. We don’t have the rules, but that’s what we know. So if we have to vaccinate because we take Medicare and Medicaid, are we going to be fined and ticketed for a misdemeanor? Our businesses? I’ve never seen a business get fined for a misdemeanor, but I guess that could happen.
B Johnson [00:12:00] I hadn’t seen the rules that you’re speaking of and have been talked about like they’re in place now. And that’s not why I did the bill. I did the bill to, to help the persons of Arkansas, whether it be a corporation against corporation. And it’s not, you know, that was not in consideration– the things that are not in place.
Ladyman [00:12:29] Representative Payton, you’re recognized.
Payton [00:12:35] Thank you, Mr. Chair. And Senator, I was pulling up the section of code that we’ve been questioning there. And it’s true that 20-7-101, the first paragraph talks about every firm, person, corporation that violates this act and this section of code will be subject to a fine of $100 to $500. But I found it very interesting, and I’m wondering if you’re aware of this. But the third paragraph says during the coronavirus 2019 public health emergency, a firm, person or corporation is not liable under subdivisions of this section, can’t be fined. Paragraph 4, very similar, during the coronavirus virus 2019 public health emergency, other state agencies. So, so mean this section of code has already had all of the penalties wiped out of it for anything that resembles coronavirus. And I was just wondering if, if you were aware of that?
B Johnson [00:13:34] Well, I appreciate that, representative Payton. And it sounds like it’s a moot factor. And it is just– I mean, this bill is specifically for this situation and this time under coronavirus and this vaccine. It’s not a general provision that will apply across all vaccines in the future.
Payton [00:13:56] So if I could have a follow up?
Ladyman [00:13:58] Yes.
Payton [00:14:00] In fact, I think your bill specifically narrows it to coronavirus, does it not?
B Johnson [00:14:06] Yes.
Payton [00:14:06] So it would be impossible for the penalties in paragraph 1 to be applied to anything your bill does because of paragraph 3 and 4.
B Johnson [00:14:16] Yes.
Payton [00:14:17] Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladyman [00:14:19] Rep. Bentley, you’re recognized.
Bentley [00:14:22] Thank you, Chairman. Senator Johnson, have you like myself, heard from your constituents that they have been denied religious exemptions when they have filed those with corporations?
B Johnson [00:14:32] I’ve seen– I’ve been forwarded those. I don’t know if they’re in my district specifically, but I’ve been forwarded those. And, and in health care situation I’ve seen in, in, in the– in my district.
Bentley [00:14:45] So your health– your hope that this bill will help those folks that have already been denied a religious exemption?
B Johnson [00:14:50] Well, that would be my hope.
Bentley [00:14:53] Thank you, sir.
Ladyman [00:14:56] Any other questions? Seeing, seeing none, we do have some people signed up to speak for and against the bill. So, we have a number of people that are signed up to speak on the bill, and I’m going to ask those to come forward first. Jim Hudson and Mike Preston. Gentlemen, if you would, please introduce yourself and who you represent for the record.
Preston [00:15:35] Mike Preston, Secretary of Commerce.
Hudson [00:15:39] Jim Hudson, Department of Commerce.
Ladyman [00:15:41] You’re recognized to present.
Preston [00:15:43] Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to Senator Johnson. And usually Senator Johnson, I support all of his legislation. On this one, we’re a little bit apart on it. So I just wanted to come on behalf of the Department of Commerce and convey our concerns with the bill. I think a lot of it was just pointed out by some of the members. Obviously the detriment to our businesses– you know, forget the fact on economic development and recruiting with a disadvantage, but to our existing industries who are already here. Part of the issue that comes up are about the funds that would be made available in lost wages. As our consultant through DFA has talked about that ARPA funds would not be allowed to be used for this. So the mechanism in which I think people would have to try to go through would be our unemployment insurance trust fund. This body has gone to great lengths to make sure that that trust fund is solvent and above an area that’s going to cause an automatic trigger, which would essentially be a tax on our businesses. If you look where this comes into, and we ran the numbers on it. You know, the maximum UI benefit that someone could realize is $7,216. Typically, an average claim is just about half that, about $3,500. So if roughly 1 percent of our workforce is impacted on that, that’s 14,000 people. So that’s a range of anywhere from $49 million to $101 million impact that you’re looking at our unemployment insurance trust fund. That’s going to initiate some automatic triggers that would allow our businesses to have to increase their experience rating and increase those businesses cost to them. Additionally, there’s no cap on this. So I’m just using a very conservative number of 1 percent. That could go much higher than that, which again, would have a very detrimental impact to our trust fund. Thank you.
Hudson [00:17:32] Mr. Chairman, if I may just add a couple just smaller, more administrative points, but I think they’re important points that the committee was getting to just a few moments ago. The bill is somewhat generic in terms of the mechanisms for filing claims. There is no agency that’s designated as the agency to adjudicate claims. And so who’s to receive the claim and how are they to actually process that? From which funds are there going to pay any benefits to somebody. That, that is absent from the statute. Nor is there any statutory grant for rulemaking? And so we don’t know who the lead agency is, and we don’t know if that agency is empowered to flesh this out, so to speak. Any rule making that any agency would do is a creature of the statute, and the statute doesn’t give us that authority. And so this is as specific as it can get. And I think it is still, you know, very, very general. In terms of the remarks that Secretary Preston was just making as well, even if the Unemployment Trust Fund ultimately didn’t have to pay it, somebody would be looked to as a source of funds. And so for a range of liability between 50 million and 100 million, if that ultimately, as was suggested by Senator Johnson, that could be a cause of action. Now you’re talking about civil lawsuits of a penalty of $50 to $100 million for every 1 percent of the workforce that actually takes advantage of this. So if 5 percent take advantage of it, you’re looking at potentially a $500 million exposure, you know, for companies in Arkansas. Thank you, sir. With that, we’ll take any questions.
Ladyman [00:19:06] Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized for a question.
Gonzales [00:19:09] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Secretary Preston, you said– you mentioned an automatic trigger that would cause to pay unemployment. Where did you find that in the bill? Because I didn’t see that. It says specifically that it would be paid from the American Rescue Plan, but there’s nothing in here referencing unemployment that I saw.
Preston [00:19:29] Well, I think that speaks to Mr. Hudson’s point that because the ARPA funds are deemed not eligible, the next most likely source would be the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, because that’s what we have available to support lost wages. So it doesn’t speak to it specifically, but it would be probably the most likely scenario. And if it’s not, then who is going to pay for it?
Gonzales [00:19:50] OK, but it’s not an automatic trigger. It doesn’t– it doesn’t–
Preston [00:19:53] It would be an automatic trigger if it was utilized and the trust fund was used and spent down to the numbers that we’re seeing here. So I’m just using the average of what it potentially would be if that is the source.
Gonzales [00:20:04] But my point is it doesn’t require the unemployment to pay this if the funds aren’t available. I mean, they would be eligible for unemployment. Mr. Hudson, you testified on a bill– on a couple of other bills, I believe, that if someone was fired in a case like this that they can file for unemployment and potentially be eligible for employment regardless. So how is this any different from, from the previous ones that we’ve heard on the unemployment issue?
Hudson [00:20:34] Yeah. So previously, what we discussed was someone filing a claim under existing law. And again, as I shared in committee back and forth between you and I even, that it’s the facts and circumstances test. It’s not an automatic. They’d have to present the evidence. Employer gets an opportunity to present the evidence as well. And the claim is adjudicated by a neutral third party. In this case, Division of Workforce Services. This particular bill tips the scales. And it does, I think, create more of an automatic scenario. The, the funding issue I think the secretary is referring to is different statutes– when the trust fund balance for unemployment falls below a certain amount, there are some taxation measures that kick in for employers to bring that funding mechanism back up to a needed amount. If we’re talking about a potential $500 million exposure, the trust fund balance today is about $850 million. So it could potentially take out two-thirds of the trust fund balance as it stands today.
Gonzales [00:21:34] So what is the trigger that you speak of?
Hudson [00:21:38] I’d have to get you the specific numbers, but once it falls below $500 million– in the $500 million to $350 million, there’s an additional tax that employers have to pay to keep the stabilization– to stabilize the trust fund.
Gonzales [00:21:51] OK, thank you.
Ladyman [00:21:54] Rep. Bentley, you’re recognized.
Bentley [00:21:57] Thank you, Chairman. Secretary Preston, could businesses not just avoid this if they just follow these exemptions that are already in federal law and follow these exemptions that Sen. Johnson’s bringing forth. This would simply– then they would not have any reason for unemployment. Does that not follow through to you that if they would just follow these exemptions, and follow the current exemptions under federal law, they would not have this issue of somebody filing for unemployment.
Preston [00:22:19] Yes, ma’am.
Ladyman [00:22:24] Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized.
Wardlaw [00:22:26] Thank you. Secretary Preston, Rep. Payton alluded a while ago that these, these fines and penalties were exempt when corona was the reason. Through reading this bill and talking to a few attorneys, it looks like that’s only true if we’re under an emergency. So and I see Mr. Hudson nodding his head, since that emergency ended last week, there would be no exemption for those people following federal law today, and you would be fined and penalized with that misdemeanor. Is that correct?
Preston [00:22:58] I am not an attorney, but that is my interpretation of it. Yes.
Wardlaw [00:23:01] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:23:04] Representative Payton, did you have another question?
Payton [00:23:07] Yes, sir, thank you.
Ladyman [00:23:09] You’re recognized.
Payton [00:23:09] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I was listening to your fiscal impact analysis on the unemployment. And I’m trying– I mean, do you just– is that based on a premise or an assumption that the businesses that want to implement or coerce or force people to take the vaccine are just going to ignore the, the law and operate normally and create a demand on the Unemployment Trust Fund? I mean, your, your whole fiscal impact seems to be based off the premise that business is going to ignore the law and create demand against the Unemployment Trust Fund.
Preston [00:23:51] My premise on the fiscal impact is that 99 percent of businesses comply. So I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to the businesses that they are going to comply and it’s going to work as it should. We are saying 1 percent. We just wanted to put it in perspective, if 1– this impacts 1 percent of the workforce, that’s what the impact would be.
Payton [00:24:10] Thank you for clarifying that.
Ladyman [00:24:14] Representative Dodson, you’re recognized.
Dotson [00:24:17] Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I guess I’m, I’m not completely clear on what the American Rescue Plan Act funds can totally be used for by comparison to what I’m more familiar with, the CARES Act funds. I know last year we reimbursed the Unemployment Trust Fund out of those federal funds– I can’t remember– $160 million or something like that. And so can the ARPA funds be used to reimburse the Unemployment Trust Fund? Is that an allowable expense?
Preston [00:24:54] It is an allowable expense, but let me defer to Mr. Hudson, who has had some conversation with the CTech Haggerty folks.
Hudson [00:25:01] Well, it’s– you know, the, the statute itself gets very particular about how much money you can put into a trust fund using ARPA funds, and there’s actually a reference date for that. And it’s immediately prior to Covid, and you can bring the balance up to the amount that was– that existed then. And our calculation of that would suggest that the most that we can put in the trust fund would be somewhere around $50 million in terms of a future ARPA allocation. The hope on that was that if we were to do that, we can use that funding to provide a non charge for employers, which this body passed a- passed statute during the, during the session saying that you gave Director Childers that authority to do this so that we don’t harm trust fund, we’re able to kind of give the employers for some relief for the latter part of 2020, when they were still seeing some claims. If we have to use the ARPA funds to, you know, fund part of this, then we wouldn’t be able to do that.
Dotson [00:26:05] OK, so if these federal funds are not available within the framework of this bill, you’re saying this bill changes the current status quo as far as what the state law is and would trigger more unemployment claims. Am I understanding that correctly?
Hudson [00:26:28] I think to be clear, the bill is unclear as to what the exact funding mechanism is going, mechanism is going to be if you cannot use ARPA funds. It uses this very general statement, other federal funds. So, you know, Unemployment Trust Fund has some federal funds in it. You know, I think that’s the thing we have to acknowledge. It has employer contributions in there, but there’s money channeled into it from the federal government as well. And so, you know, what are the federal funds that are going to get tapped to fund this? It is– it’s very, very ambiguous.
Dotson [00:27:01] So it’s your contention that potentially the unemployment trust funds which have federal funds in there could be used with this law in order to reach into the Unemployment Trust Fund and pay claims.
Hudson [00:27:14] Yeah, I don’t think it takes too clever a lawyer to look for any funding source possible to fund his or her legal claim.
Dotson [00:27:21] Okay. Do you have any idea what percentage of federal funds are in that Unemployment Trust Fund?
Hudson [00:27:28] Couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.
Dotson [00:27:29] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:27:34] Any other questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comments. Paul Lothian, if you would please come to the end of the table. Please introduce yourself for the record.
Lothian [00:28:30] Paul Lothian, Department of Finance and Administration.
Ladyman [00:28:32] Thank you. You’re recognized.
Lothian [00:28:34] Thank you. I have one comment to make. It’s about the ARPA funding. As discussed earlier, the ARPA funds are not eligible to be used to pay these claims directly as outlined on Page 2 Line 26. I’m not aware of any other funding source that would be available, either.
Ladyman [00:29:08] Is that all your comments?
Lothian [00:29:09] Yes, sir.
Ladyman [00:29:10] Any questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you. Thank you for your comments. Mark White, if you would please go to the end of the table. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
White [00:29:43] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mark White, Department of Human Services. I know I’ve spoken to the committee before about the possible impact of these bills on the seven health care facilities we operate. Don’t want to repave a lot of ground there. You know, as I said, we have seven facilities where we have more than 3,000 employees caring for more than 1,000 clients who live in those facilities. Total federal funding of about $130 million. The update I wanted to bring you is this: late last week, the federal government released additional guidance on how vaccine mandates will apply to federal employees. I just want to note for you that in that guidance, while they do allow for a religious exemption, they do not recognize a philosophical exemption. So if CMS issues, issues guidance that’s consistent with what they are now doing for federal employees, that does mean that this bill will conflict with that CMS requirement. And so I just want to make sure that the committee understands what that new development is. With that, I’ll be happy to answer any questions.
Ladyman [00:30:39] Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized.
Wardlaw [00:30:41] So, Mr. White, as long as we’re not in an emergency, this conflict would cause a fine and a misdemeanor to be placed on those employers for following federal law. Is that correct?
White [00:30:51] [00:30:51]Yes, sir.
Wardlaw [00:30:52] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:30:55] Any other questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comments.
White [00:31:01] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:31:04] OK. We have a number of people for and against. So we will start out with speaking against the bill. Matt Gilmore. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. That’s 39, excuse me. Randy Zook, if you would please go to the end of the table and please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Zook [00:31:42] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Randy Zook, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
Ladyman [00:31:45] You’re recognized.
Zook [00:31:50] As in earlier conversations and testimony about this and similar bills, still there remain two overarching issues or concerns with this bill as well. It’s simply a government overreach into the employee employer relationship and imposes unreasonable mandates on private businesses and business owners across the state. And it puts Arkansas companies and small businesses in the position of determining whether to follow state law or federal law. Many Arkansas businesses, large and small, have put vaccine policies in place relying on federal EEOC guidance. Under that guidance, which interprets existing federal law, an employer who implements a vaccine policy must include exemptions for medical reasons and religious beliefs. The religious belief guidance is broad, and it also includes moral and ethical beliefs, and it can even include opposition to receiving injections of certain chemicals. But this bill takes things even further to require that employers consider the person’s philosophical beliefs. What does that term mean? The term is not defined in the legislation. Does that simply mean I disagree with the vaccine, or I don’t like needles or I have some other questionable philosophical expression, not necessarily view. It could under this bill. This is a case where a broadly undefined exemption would swallow the rule and effectively do away with a business owner’s ability to set a policy requiring vaccines and do away with their ability to operate their business in the way they think best keeps their employees and customers safe. And now we’ve heard discussion this morning about this applying to subcontractors. I would raise the question: does that apply to the maintenance people who serve my office building? Am I not allowed to require them and their employees to be vaccinated before they enter our premises to clean our office? Does that apply to delivery services? Can you not specify to a delivery company that whoever brings packages to your office has to be vaccinated in order to enter? Does that not apply to the pest control company that serves our business? Can we not require the technician be vaccinated to enter our premises and service? Does this apply to any service? So not only are we telling business owners how they can deal with their employees. Now we’re telling them that they cannot coerce a subcontractor by saying if you don’t meet this requirement, we will terminate our contract. So we’re now interfering with contractual rights with subs– subcontractors as well as employees. And I guess that, that basically are the points that we’d like to raise this morning. I’d be happy to take any questions.
Ladyman [00:35:13] Any questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comments.
Zook [00:35:20] Thank you.
Ladyman [00:35:21] OK to speak for the bill, Craig Matthews. If you would come to the end of the table. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Matthews [00:35:34] Good morning, Mr. Chair and honorable members. Craig Matthews, just a private citizen. I’d just like to say we’ve heard a lot about federal legality versus state legality. And as Representative Bentley pointed out, clearly philosophical and religious exemptions are enshrined and codified in Arkansas state law, which to my limited understanding of the Republic we live in, trumps federal law. But I admit I’m not a legislator, so I don’t want to. But to define the idea of conformed incent– informed consent, since we’ve heard a lot about the contractual rights of businesses which and once again in my limited understanding, do not apply to the bodies of their employees, regardless of what other contractual obligations they may hold. But I would like to read to you from the United Nations a document. This is the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, which was signed as a treaty by the U.S. so holds the weight of international law and human rights law. And it states under Article 3, Human Dignity and Human Rights, Line 2 the interest and welfare of the individual should have priority over the sole interest of science or society. And in Article 6, under consent, any preventative diagnostic or therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior free and informed consent of the person concerned based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be expressed and may be withdrawn by the person at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice. And without being redundant, I would argue that this holds the weight of law since it was signed on to by the United States. And also, I would just like to read from Biderman’s chart of coercion. This is a chart used in cases of war crimes and increasingly, increasingly now being applied to domestic violence issues. It states one of the methods of coercion makes resistance more costly than compliance. And I think clearly we’ve seen a lot of that at the federal level starting off with bribes and now with force. Creates anxiety and despair by outlining cost of non-compliance. Suggests futility of resistance and develops habits of compliance. And with respect to the chair’s time and the member’s time, that’s all I have.
Ladyman [00:38:17] Representative Dodson, you’re recognized for a question.
Dotson [00:38:22] Thank you, Mr. Chair. You referenced that as a treaty the United States has entered into so it’s binding upon the federal government as well as states. I guess, are you contending that if we have some sort of federal mandate coming down that it would be subject to litigation based off this treaty that the federal government would be in violation of?
Matthews [00:38:48] With respect, sir, I’m not sure I’m knowledgeable enough to answer that question, but it certainly seems to me that at the very least, there is a conflict. But I’m sorry, I don’t really know enough to answer as far as litigation would go.
Dotson [00:39:00] Thank you.
Matthews [00:39:01] Thank you, sir.
Ladyman [00:39:03] Any other questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comments. Ok to speak for the bill, Wayne Beach. If you would come to the end of the table. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Beach [00:39:31] Make sure you get this thing on. I’m Wayne Beach. I’m representing myself. You know, I looked at this. It’s a real simple deal here. We’ve got, we’ve got evidence and we’ve got testimony from both the CDC, the international health folks and the Biden administration that you can take all the shots you want, including all three of them, the booster too, and you can still carry the virus and you can still spread it. Then tell me something, if you can still spread it after you take the vaccine, how can you force somebody to take a vaccine if you can still spread it? That guy that goes down there and works on your building and he’s just a contractor, how do you know where he’s been when he shows up there? He could still be vaccinated and still carry that the virus into your facility. So actually trying to force somebody to take a vaccine, that doesn’t work. It works for that person, but it doesn’t protect the rest of the public. I just want to bring that out. The other thing is, is that I look back at the Constitution and I look back at– Thomas Hobbs was a big influence back in the 1600s, a big influence on how our, how our founders actually looked at the Constitution and how it was actually brought out. He believed that every individual, every individual has a right to make his choices, his choices. That individual was also responsible and accountable and must accept the consequences of his personal choices. And that’s all I have to say. Thank you very much.
Ladyman [00:41:29] Any questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comments. To speak for the bill, Paul Calvert. If you would please come to the end of the table. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Calvert [00:41:51] Yes, committee, my name is Paul Calvert. I appreciate your time today. So one of the things that this bill kind of gives me some heartburn over, Randy Zoom kind of brought up some, some points that I’m sympathetic to. The free market principles of a business owner or a private business owner should be allowed to make decisions about their business. And even if they’re unreasonable decisions, they should be allowed to make those decisions and fire people who don’t want to comply with them because it’s their private business. So I am sympathetic to that. Really a great deal. However, in a lot of cases, we’re talking about businesses that have become so entangled with government that they’re not private businesses to a great extent anymore. And so it, it, it gives me pause to consider the possibility of supporting legislation that maybe would take away some of these freedoms, if you will, from businesses that may not actually be quite private anymore because there’s so much entanglement between private business and government that there’s not a lot of separation sometimes. And so that’s kind of my rationale for being able to support this that I normally would not be able to support. And so that’s where I am. Thank you for your time.
Ladyman [00:43:27] Representative Boyd, you’re recognized for a question.
Boyd [00:43:30] Mr. Calvert, thank you for being here today. And I think we all have concerns one way or the other. I mean, we understand the need balanced with what does this do long term. So on some level, when we’re talking about free markets and consumers are making a choice. And they continue to support these larger businesses rather than the small independent businesses. So I guess my question is, is this the right way to regulate the market or is there something that we should do to stimulate competition somewhere else so that people might have other choices? Thank you.
Calvert [00:44:09] I think it’s a good question. So I think one of the one of the problems that we have is we’ve got so much government involvement, and we don’t have a good desire to deregulate in such a way that we could actually make free markets possible. And so when, when government regulates so heavily that we have one choice or only a couple of choices– and a lot of us, if Wal Mart sells milk for $3 a gallon or the mom and pop store sells it for $8 a gallon, most of us don’t feel like we have enough ready cash to justify spending $8 a gallon of milk, so we go to Wal-Mart and buy it at $3 a gallon. And, and there’s examples of that all across the way that probably some of us have known small business owners over the past that that they can’t buy wholesale products for the price that Wal Mart sells them retail. And I’m using Wal-Mart, for example, but it could be many other large box type stores. And so that small businesses cannot compete from price standpoint. No, I like my neighbor, so I might go ahead and hire him to do whatever it might be, and I might pay extra for that. But I can’t always justify spending the extra money to hire my friends and neighbors when they really just can’t compete on a financial basis. I’d be better off to just write them a check for $500 and say, Hey, I like you, but I’m going to hire this other guy that’s going to save me $1,000 over your price. And that’s, that’s kind of where we’re at sometimes. There’s so much government involvement already that gives some of these very large operators such a severe advantage over others because they’ve been so involved in politics and the laws are in their favor if that makes any sense at all.
Ladyman [00:46:19] Any other questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comments.
Calvert [00:46:24] Thank you, committee.
Ladyman [00:46:27] To speak for the bill, Heather Beach. If you would come to the end of the table. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
H Beach [00:46:37] Good morning. My name is Heather Beach. I am a small business owner here in Pulaski County. So I own a architectural design company. I’m also a contractor, a business– a building contractor. So I understand government regulations and how they hinder my business. I deal with city building codes daily, so I understand this. I understand too much government regulations. As Republicans, we should be for private property and less government. However, the foundation of our constitution is based on individual rights, and I think that’s something that we all need to remember. Also as a business owner, I don’t feel comfortable telling my employees that they should get a vaccine. I just don’t feel like that’s my business. That should be something that’s personal between them and their physician. Plus, you don’t know what people’s– their background is. If they have a pre-medical health condition, such as my best friend, who is a 37 year old breast cancer survivor. She is still under chemotherapy. One of the side effects to the vaccine is blood clots, and that’s also a side effect to the chemotherapy. So she’s a single mother. She is the sole provider for her family. There is no father income coming in. She is a radiographer, so she does make pretty good money. But this is her, this is her only income that she has. She just received an email last week stating, pretty much you get the vaccine or you’re fired. And she– they’re not offering any type of medical exemptions or anything. So, you know, she works for Baptist Hospital. Baptist Hospital is one of the largest hospitals and clinics in Arkansas. So, you know, it’s not just Baptist. It’s all the other hospitals, too. So she has nowhere to go to work, so it’s either get vaxxed or she’s fired. You know, and what is she going to do? How is she going to provide for her family? And I think that’s something that we all need to really consider is that, you know, this isn’t a one size fits all with these vaccines. So we really need to consider, you know, being able to have medical exemptions, religious exemptions. I just– I think, you know, everyone in this room, it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or you’re a Democrat, we all know that this is wrong. We all do. We know it deep down in our souls. We know that it is wrong for us to have this mandate on people. We should always consider people’s individual rights. And as far as you, Mr. Zook back there, I would like to see a list of the businesses that you actually represent. I know I’ve seen you in here several times and that you represent 1,300-something businesses in Arkansas, but so you do not represent mine, nor do you represent a lot of my friends’ businesses. So anyways, that’s all I have to say. Do you have any questions?
Ladyman [00:49:51] Any questions from committee? Representative Allen, you’re recognized.
Allen [00:49:55] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I didn’t, I didn’t catch your name.
H Beach [00:49:59] Heather Beach.
Allen [00:50:00] OK. Miss Beach, would you agree that every time we pass a bill up here or in other states, that’s a mandate?
H Beach [00:50:11] No, not necessarily. No.
Allen [00:50:16] Okay. OK, thank you.
H Beach [00:50:20] I don’t quite understand what you said. So what is that? You said, Do I feel like all the bills that we passed are mandates?
Allen [00:50:27] Every bill that we pass up here is a mandate.
H Beach [00:50:30] No, I don’t feel like everything is a mandate. I don’t– no. And I know that mandates are not laws.
Allen [00:50:36] OK, thank you.
H Beach [00:50:37] Yeah.
Ladyman [00:50:39] Any other questions from committee? Seeing none, I thank you for your comment.
H Beach [00:50:44] Yes. Thank you.
Ladyman [00:50:47] OK to speak for the bill, Laverne Robertson. I don’t know whether I get that right or not. Please come to the table. Please introduce yourself. I may have messed up your name there, so.
Robertson [00:51:04] Most do.
Ladyman [00:51:09] Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Robertson [00:51:11] Yes, sir. My name is Lavina Robertson. Live around Searcy. I’m actually representing my family and all of Arkansas. I have many friends that are business owners. I have friends who work in professorships. I have friends who work as librarians at universities, as nurses, as doctors, as Coca-Cola distributors, as in filling up the machines at the different stores. Also, stockers, all these different places. I myself am the caregiver of a permanently and totally disabled spouse who was deployed nine times to protect all of the rights and freedoms of everyone sitting in this room, of everyone in Arkansas and everyone in the United States of America, which seemingly seems to no longer matter to most of the people who are our representatives. And that would be in all three branches, not just the executive branch. Because it’s not as if just one administration has started pushing these mandates or these laws or all these executive orders or all of these slippery slope items. This has been coming down the pike. My husband took the anthrax vaccine, three different versions of it because it was experimental then. And since there were laws put in place to not be allowed to experiment on our military members, you have to go before Congress and get permission to use a medication that hasn’t been FDA approved to use for national security reasons during wartime. And so that was approved for our military members. So he took that medication multiple times, 27 injections if I remember correctly. And because of that, he has seizures. He has Parkinson-like tremors. He has dementia spells. He has permanent nerve damage. He has 37 service connected disabilities along with others that aren’t service connected. But I just don’t want to go through that process anymore because it’s horrible. That was a vaccine that wasn’t properly studied for its usage. It was pushed through for a emergency use. Now military members at that time had no exemptions. There were no way to say no, this isn’t been properly studied. This hasn’t been properly vetted. I don’t know how it’s going to affect me while I’m trying to protect everyone. So they just took it. And their, their contracts, they signed their bodies away. They, essentially, when they sign up for the military, become property of the United States of America, and they’re OK with that. My husband was OK with that and I was OK with that because we were protecting the constitutional rights of everybody else and we were OK with that. We made that sacrifice. However, it permanently destroyed my husband. It permanently destroyed thousands upon thousands upon thousands of military veterans to the point that that anthrax vaccine debacle put in motion exemptions for military members that never existed before. And I would appreciate if people would listen because it’s actually important. The fact that my husband is permanently disabled is important, and the House member that’s ignoring me and speaking at the end of the table is disrespectful.
Ladyman [00:55:29] Please proceed.
Robertson [00:55:32] I apologize. Now, the exemptions were put in place for them now. Right now, the exemptions for the military aren’t even being used the way they were meant to be used. They have military and religious exemptions, only not philosophical, which I will cover philosophical in a minute because some of you all seem to be confused about those. And I am a little long winded, so I do apologize, chair. But, the religious and medical are the only things allowed for the military and the religious are supposed to be approved by the chaplain and the medical approved by their medical personnel. Now, right now, that’s not the way it’s being treated, because for some reason, too many exemptions are being approved. So they’ve decided that now only command is to approve the vaccination exemptions. That’s kind of messed up. Now this is something you all have to think about. If the military put in exemptions for something that was rushed and disabled so many members because it wasn’t properly studied, now we have big businesses and the Chamber of Commerce who speaks for so many businesses and all of these others saying that the constituents and the employees do not deserve the minimum rights of saying that we should have the right to say something does not belong injected into our bodies because it has not been studied the proper amount of time. It has not been properly vetted. It has a large amount of adverse reactions, so much so that I have family members that have 39 percent heart functionality, like they will die before a heart ever becomes available. There is something wrong when your employer is saying that you don’t have a choice. Like Miss Beach was saying is when you’ve gone through cancer and chemotherapy and you have a high risk of blood clots and you’re being told you have no choice but to get an injection that may cause you to have blood clots, furthermore, that you already have a risk for, but you can’t get an exemption. In my family’s case, we would choose all three exemptions. Medical wise, we would have a medical exemption because of a certain thing, because of the mammalian lipid that encapsulates around, but only certain doctors will actually recognize that exemption. We would have a religious exemption, but your employer gets to choose whether they accept a religious exemption. And if I worked for Tyson, that would mean that I would not get to work for a year. So they would not fire me, but they would put me on unpaid leave for a year. Basically fired. I would still lose my house. So think about that. I wouldn’t pay my utilities. I can’t pay for my house and I can’t buy groceries. So I still end up with children who are starving. I have eight children. So you guys could figure out the food bill there. On the philosophical, a philosophical belief is anything that would not be typically covered under religious beliefs. That does not mean that you’re not a religious person. You can be a religious person, but you may not believe that your personal religious tenants are being abused or accosted by that thing, so you choose a philosophical. It also means that maybe you’re agnostic or atheist and you have a strong philosophical, personal life belief that you is being accosted by this thing but whatever medical and whether it be this vaccine or whatever medical procedure. Now it also may be the fact that you have a strong constitutional belief, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. I believe paying my mortgage, feeding my children, being able to pay for prescription medication, all part of my pursuit of happiness, and I don’t know, surviving.
Ladyman [01:00:08] Mrs. Robertson, I hate to cut you off, but we’re limited on time.
Robertson [01:00:12] I understand you’re limited on time, sir.
Ladyman [01:00:13] Get to your point.
Robertson [01:00:15] This is– I’m covering philosophical because you guys have all asked about philosophical and what it is and no one’s been able to answer. And legally, according to the Supreme Court and multiple states, they’ve spoken to what philosophical beliefs are and this is what philosophical beliefs are, according to those. According to Philosophical also covers those those constitutional beliefs, which also means liberty, which means my body. My body is is my personal right, my personal autonomy. It is not the right of my employer. I am not owned by my employer when I start working for them. Nobody owns me. Now, some say, just quit and go to another job. However, if a majority of Arkansas is mandating these vaccines, where am I supposed to go to work? Where is my 18 year old supposed to go to work? As she ages, where is she supposed to go to work? If when the federal mandate comes down, yes, today it’s one hundred plus workers. But as with all of the executive orders, it hasn’t stayed at what it started out. So it’s a hundred plus today, 50 plus tomorrow, 25, then everybody. If you all are acting as if you don’t know that, then you’re either being, feigning naivete or you’re just treating us as if we’re ignorant. Now I will go ahead and I guess stop because I do respect your time and accept any questions.
Ladyman [01:01:53] Thank you. Any questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comments. All right. We have no one else signed up to speak for or against the bill. Senator Johnson. Is there anyone in the audience who would like to speak for or against the bill?
Layman [01:02:17] I’d like to speak on the bill.
Ladyman [01:02:19] Please come to the end of the table and introduce yourself.
Layman [01:02:22] Thank you.
Ladyman [01:02:24] Are you signed up?
Layman [01:02:26] No, the dog ate my homework.
Layman [01:02:28] OK. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Layman [01:02:31] I apologize. The traffic coming into town was just horrible. So I’m running a little bit late. I appreciate you letting me speak. My name is Ray Layman. My organization is Friends of Arkansas, but I’m speaking on behalf of the individual. A little over 245 years ago, we formed this great country based on individual rights based on putting the thumb in the eye of King George. We may be looking in the past nine months at another similar King George incident going on in Washington, D.C. But 245 years ago, there was a constitution, a bill of rights that came forward that talked about God given rights of the individual, the individual’s right to privacy, the individual’s right to liberty. I don’t know that anywhere in there it says businesses right to liberty, businesses right to privacy. Those laws have been written in the 245 years of this country’s existence. I pose that the initial laws, the Bill of Rights, the God given individual rights, supplant, replace any of the current laws that defend the businesses supposed rights. I want to give you a couple of examples of how today right now in this Capitol and also in Washington, D.C., how we are losing our rights where they’re just being whittled away. Yesterday in the Senate, there was a testimony by a senator– I won’t say who– that said that if mandates don’t become law, then businesses will go out of business. And his logic was that if your business is one that enters someone’s home, someone’s home, such as a plumber, goes into the home, then a business who can advertise that 100 percent of their employees are vaccinated would have an advantage over businesses that can’t advertise their employees are 100 percent vaccinated. That is frightening. The senator feels it’s OK to tell the general public about the medical records, the medical history of his employees. That’s whittling away at our rights. Now I know that most of you don’t feel that way. In fact, Chairman, I told you when I was shaking your hand that I thought the 2021 Legislature was the most conservatively political and successful Legislature I’ve ever witnessed in my life. And I’m very proud to be an Arkansan and very proud that you all are leading me. I’d like to just, two more points, two more quick points. In Washington, D.C. in 2020, the National Defense Authorization Act was passed. In the National Defense Authorization Act was a red flag law against our military and everybody was up in arms. This year, 2021, there is another red flag law in the National Defense Authorization Act against our military. Whittling away.]That’s how in 245 years, we’ve lost sight of the individual rights. And we moved and shifted to business rights where folks can come in here and actually say businesses have rights. Well, they might have legal rights, but they don’t have God given rights. And finally, my final point, I know you guys are probably tired of seeing this book, but I’ve got to bring it out again. All of you Republicans, the third and fourth plank of the Republican Party. And remember, this platform was voted on by every single Republican County Committee in the state of Arkansas. It wasn’t built by Doyle Webb and passed. Every county voted on this. All of you all represent these counties. The third platform says– third Plank, I’m sorry, says individual responsibility and initiative we Republicans support. The fourth plank says individual freedom and liberty secured by a limited government. Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot force individuals to inject something into their body. We can force them to dress properly when they come to work. We can force them to take a shower every morning and smell clean when they come to work. We can force them to look kempt and put on a good face for the business, but we cannot force them to inject something into their body. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’ll be happy to take any questions.
Ladyman [01:07:02] Any questions from committee? Seeing none, thank you for your comment.
Layman [01:07:06] Thank you for letting me speak. Is there anyone else in the audience who’d like to speak for or against the bill? Seeing none, Senator Johnson, are you ready to close for your bill? Senator Johnson, you ready to close?
B Johnson [01:07:26] Thank you, members and chair and those who spoke against it and for it. This is, is very divisive. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we– that’s why I wrote the bill. And I wanted to protect all the citizens, all the persons defined in the state of Arkansas. The– there’s not a lot of specificity in this bill, and I think our systems can, can flesh that out. If we’re not in an emergency, then why are we mandating? Under CDC and under the science, you, you can transmit this, whether you’re vaccinated or not. Why do we want 100 percent compliance? I’d appreciate a good vote and I’m doing this out of respect to the people I serve. Thank you, members.
Ladyman [01:08:25] Thank you, Senator. What’s the will of the committee? Rep. Bentley, you’re recognized. I have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? Rep. Magie, you’re recognized.
Magie [01:08:40] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate everyone’s comments on this bill. I’m going to be a no vote. But, but I want to explain why as a physician, why I’m a no vote. I work in health care and in health care facilities we deal with compromised patients. In nursing homes, there are compromised patients. The way I read this bill is if a nursing home decided they wanted their cleaning service to have fully vaccinated people coming into that nursing home, they can’t do that. And for that reason, I would be a no vote on the bill. This, this affects not all businesses, it really affects health care more than anything. For 42 years, I’ve been a physician in this state and for 42 years every year, I was required to get a TB skin test and take a flu vaccine to be on staff at a hospital. You know, did that interfere with my freedom? You know, the freedom I had was if I decided I didn’t want to take that flu shot, I was no longer on staff in the hospital. That was set by the staff medical staff. That’s one of the requirements for being on staff. And, and, and, you know, with freedom, there comes personal responsibility and I have a responsibility to patients and those that are around me. So, so I think people should get the vaccine. Now, whether it’s mandated by employers or not, I think, I think that’s up to the business. And I think these bills are getting in the way of, of, of companies. Most companies, they should have the choice as to whether or not they want to mandate it. Do you think a drywall company if a drywall contractor says all of his people are going to be vaccinated, how many people are going to show up tomorrow at the drywall company? Nobody. You know, so, so business will be reasonable about this. They will. They will understand their employees. They’ll understand what they need to do and whether they need to have it or not. There are some businesses that need to be able to mandate it. And, and so for those reasons, I’m opposed to this legislation as, as I will be opposed to other bills too. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ladyman [01:10:58] Any further discussion? Representative Bentley, you’re recognized.
Bentley [01:11:02] Thank you, chairman. I’ve been a business owner in Arkansas for 20 years, and somehow we think that– the debate is that this bill, if we pass this bill and other bills, that we’re compromising the freedom of businesses. And I, I find that laughable. I can look at my business and see I have thousands upon thousands of restrictions upon me. This bill is not going to make us a bastion of free regulation in Arkansas if we don’t pass this bill. I just wanted to bring that out as a small business owner in Arkansas. And I think we’re failing to see the debate that this vaccine is not 100 percent safe and it’s not 100 percent effective. If it was, we wouldn’t be hearing this, but there have been on the VAERS reporting system over 750,000 adverse reactions reported, 15,000 deaths on there, 7,000 heart attacks, 6,600 instances of myocarditis. And we had testimony of myocarditis right here in our committee. So I think we’re failing to see the concerns, legitimate concerns over constituents. And I think if we had seen businesses actually honoring religious exemptions and philosophical exemption, those exemptions, we wouldn’t be here. But they have not been honored. We have– in the history of our nation, we have honored individual liberties and freedoms and with flu vaccines, religious exemptions have been honored. But they’re not being honored with this vaccine. And that’s why we’re here today. We are a nation of God given liberties and they are on the line. I’m sorry, I really feel adamant about this, that tyranny is at the door and I 100 percent support this bill and every bill that helps our constituents stand up for their individual liberties and freedoms. And I speak that as a small business owner for the past 20 years. Thank you.
Ladyman [01:12:41] Representative Pilkington, you’re recognized.
Pilkington [01:12:43] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m a supporter of the bill, but, but then maybe some other members of the committee can kind of help enlighten me on this. This bill failed to pass its emergency clause through the Senate. So if we pass it out of here and pass it on the floor and it goes the governor’s desk, it still won’t have an emergency clause. So my concern and like I said, this is what I’m hoping someone in the committee can address, is companies will see January 1st as a deadline of when this will go into effect. So what they’ll do is they’ll force and make themselves have mandates now while they still have the option instead of waiting until January 1st so that they’re in compliance with the federal mandates coming down from the Biden administration. And so my concern is in trying to do good, we end up doing something bad. And so maybe some others on the committee can kind of shed some light on that for me because this is something I was dealing with today, and I didn’t really hear any good explanation during the discussion. So I’d, just something I’d like to put in the forethought in some people’s minds.
Ladyman [01:13:45] Representative Allen, did you have a comment?
Allen [01:13:47] I do.
Ladyman [01:13:47] You recognized.
Allen [01:13:49] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, I want to say there’s no bill out there that is bulletproof. There’s no medicine on the market that does not cause side effects, even aspirin. And even when you take the flu shot, there’s a possibility that you still can get the flu. And there’s a possibility that you can have some side effects from it. And for those who are going through cancer treatment, I’m still going. And one of the first things that they wanted me to do at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, they wanted me to get my vaccine. I got my vaccine. I’m in the process of getting my booster. Also, they want to– I have to be tested every time I go. They asked me if I mind taking the test. I don’t. And every employee at that hospital is tested or has been vaccinated because every patient that comes into that hospital is suffering from the disease and my immune system is totally different from anybody’s immune system at this table. And that is one of the reasons why I continue to wear a mask. And when I go into a medical facility, I want to at least know that the person that’s giving me my treatment has been vaccinated because I don’t want to spread the disease to that nurse or that doctor, and they go home and give it to their kids. And I don’t want them to spread the disease to me. So that is the reason why I believe in the vaccination, and that is the reason why I probably will not vote for that bill today. Thank you.
Ladyman [01:15:38] Any further discussion from committee? Seeing none, the motion on the floor is do pass. All in favor signify by saying aye. Those opposed nay. The ayes have it. Call the roll.
[01:16:11] Representative Wardlaw, Representative Wardlaw. Representative Eubanks. Representative Eubanks. Representative Magie, no. Representative Dotson. Representative Dotson, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Representative Miller, Representative Miller. Representative Payton, yes. Representative Bentley, yes. Representative Gray, no. Representative Gonzalez, yes. Representative Boyd, no. Representative Allen. Representative Allen, no. Representative Coleman, no. Representative Pilkington, yes. Representative Wing, yes. Representative Penzo, yes. Representative Perry, no. Representative Cloud, yes. Vice Chair Ferguson, vice chair Ferguson.
Ladyman [01:18:08] Senator Johnson, your bill has failed. All right, committee, we’re going to move on to the next–
[01:18:14] Representative Davis, I’m sorry. Representative Davis, yes.
Ladyman [01:18:40] I’m sorry, Senator. Your bill has still failed. All right, thank you, committee. We’re going to move on to the next item on the agenda. SB 739. Senator Hammer, if you would, go to the end of the table. Senator, please introduce yourself for the record.
Hammer [01:19:17] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Kim Hammer, state Senator, District 33.
Ladyman [01:19:20] You’re recognized to present your bill.
Hammer [01:19:22] Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I believe y’all have probably heard the meat of the bill prior to. So I won’t go into great long explanation, but I would like to just take the bill and flip through it. Would like to acknowledge just to make sure the members know that the bill came down from the Senate without the emergency clause being passed. So we’re debating the content of the bill, not the emergency bill, although I’ll refer to it in case somebody wanted to put an amendment on it. Section number 1, which is do not codify, just simply gives the legislative finding and intent that the federal government is mandating employers to take actions related to COVID 19, including forcing employees to be vaccinated against their will. Mandates are overreaching of authority. Many employees and employers in Arkansas will be subject to vaccinations and some against their will and desire, even the employers. Arkansas employees need to be protected from this type of overreach. I did then put in the intent so as to be clear what this bill is intended to do. It is to protect the employees in Arkansas from impending termination due to the vaccine mandates. And then the second thing is to create the ability for funding to be available to assist employees in Arkansas with costs associated with testing related to the vaccination mandate through methods provided in this act. And we’ll get to those in a second. Section 2 is codified and so we get down to the primary point on Line 12 of Page 2 that an employer that requires or is mandated to require vaccination for the employees shall provide a specific exemption process that’s mentioned on Line 14 and that specific exemption process shall include two key points. One, that the employee would be allowed to produce a negative antigen detection test up to one time a week. Or two, provide proof of immunity from the virus that causes the COVID 19 or its variants, and it spells out what that means. It would be done at least– no more than two times a year, but not less than one time every six months. That kind of follows the guidelines as far as the expectations for how long the immunity would last. The– on line 26 the employee may choose the test. On line 28, the employee may provide the test results obtained outside the employer licensed health care provider if the test meets the guidelines contained in the policy for the COVID 19 test. So what we don’t want is a bunch of voodoo test products out there. We want the ones that have been nationally recognized, been through the process and are acceptable, and that they would be able to use those as their means for taking the test. One thing I want to make– point out in our end where we had testimony, a physician came up from down in Grant County and somebody made the comment that, well, the test costs about a $100. And this physician who’s been dealing with COVID 19 since it began sometimes being the only provider in the area that did it made the comment, he said, You know, we give those tests in our offices all day long for $7. So the cost– there’s a scare tactic that the cost is $100, when in reality, you can get a test for $7 as well. So I’m saying that because of a point, I’m going to get to in just a minute down on the bill. So it has to meet the guidelines. So it’s not voodoo magic test. And then when you get down to who shall bear the cost of it at the bottom of line two. The cost of the testing shall be covered through any state or federal funding. A key word on line 35, two key words: made available. There’s a debate to whether or not the current funding formula– the current federal funding that’s out there, could it be used, could it not be used. That’s one consultant’s opinion. I would remind the committee that we have fired consultants around here on a regular basis because we find out that sometimes what they tell us is not true once we verify it. So I just want to remind you that a consultant renders an opinion based on their professional opinion, but sometimes they get it wrong, and we have a history of seeing that around here. So please just put a fair set of weight on each side of the scale to balance what’s being said because there is evidence out there that shows that, yes, we can use that funding. So anyway, the key phrase on line 35, Page 2 is made available. If it turns out that funding is not made available, guess what? It’s out of the picture. But if we do find some– and here’s the other thing I want you to know. They’re still spending money up in Washington, sending it down to us like it’s growing off this humongous money tree. We don’t know what’s coming down the line and what might be made available. This bill creates the pathway that if there’s money coming down the line because we know that they have mandated but they haven’t issued the rules, which is a phrase I would use that includes the term backwards. But they are– there are– there’s a mandate out there, but the rules themselves are still being developed. We don’t know but what the rules won’t align with this and money may come with this to where we can afford those who don’t get the vaccine the ability to be tested. So this language is written there in anticipation that something may be coming so that if it does, we’ve already got the framework of it in mind here in the state. Now it also goes on and says that if the employee’s health benefit plan does not provide coverage for testing, but if it does, there’s a source to pay for the testing. If the employee’s health plan does cover it, then that can be a source of paying for the cost. But at the end of the day, everything fails that I just said, the employee is responsible for paying for the cost of the test, not the employer. I could tell you some don’t like that, but you get a fall out one way or the other. I know businesses that are in a position that they are mandating that their employees have to be vaccinated and they don’t want to– they’re looking for a pathway forward. They’re looking for a reason or an opportunity to get out from underneath it without compromising a safe working environment for them or anybody that they offer their services to. That’s what this bill is intended to do. But at the end of the day, the employee is responsible. Now, that doesn’t mean the employer and employee couldn’t work out some arrangements. I’ve heard of some pretty creative incentives by the part of the employer to provide for the employee to get the vaccination. I don’t know why they couldn’t use that same money– one company I heard using up to $50,000 lottery drawing, and if you get vaccinated, you put your name in the pot and you have a chance to win that $50,000. If they can do that, I don’t know why they can’t redirect some of that money to help pay for the cost. All right. So I just want you to think about that. If an employee complies with the requirement and I’m on line 9 and I’m about done. Line 9 Page 3. If the employee complies with the requirements of the specific exemption process that’s been established, that is required related to the COVID 19, the employee shall not be terminated for mandates related to COVID 19. Doesn’t mean they can’t be terminated for anything else. They can be terminated for anything else. I want you to notice on line 15, the Employment at Will Doctrine is put in there just as a safety precaution because somebody raised the question so we identified that in there. And then finally, when you get on down to the line, DFA is going to establish the distribution of funding. It’ll come back before us in Rules. Put in three key points just to make sure it goes in the right direction. They’ll give a monthly report to ALC. And then finally, if an employee is terminated by the employer for violating this, they have a recourse. But I also want you to notice on line 31, the key phrase ‘may be eligible.’ Doesn’t promise they’re going to be eligible for unemployment, but they may be. And that would be just like a standard person going to file for unemployment. Last thing is, there’s a sunset clause because this is a moving– this is a moving picture. And we want to be able to come back in the general session and be able to make any adjustments. And hopefully it will go away and this bill would go away then too. So I’d kind of put a stopgap on the end of it to make sure this doesn’t go on into perpetuity and gives us a chance to come back and address it. With that, Mr. Chair, I’ll be glad to answer any questions.
Ladyman [01:27:55] Representative Gonzalez, you’re recognized.
Gonzales [01:27:59] Mr. Hammer, is this bill identical to Representative Bryant’s bill that we passed out of this committee?
Hammer [01:28:04] It should be identical to it, but didn’t want to take anything for granted, so it should be identical. We’re running– we’re doing what we do down here. We start on each end and run down, except for the sponsorship arrangement is a little bit different, but pretty much the same bill.
Gonzales [01:28:16] Thank you.
Ladyman [01:28:19] Representative Dodson, you’re recognized.
Dotson [01:28:22] Thank you, Mr. Chair. In light of that, we’ve already heard testimony on an identical version of this bill. It passed out of here Friday overwhelmingly. I would make a motion do pass at the proper time.
Ladyman [01:28:38] Representative Bentley, you’re recognized.
Bentley [01:28:45] My question’s already been answered. Thank you, chairman.
Ladyman [01:28:47] Representative Boyd, you’re recognized for question.
Boyd [01:28:51] Representative Dodson beat me to the punch.
Ladyman [01:28:56] Any further questions from committee? Representative Pilkington.
Pilkington [01:29:00] Since Rep. Gonzalez made the point that this is a bill that we’ve already voted on. It’s the exact same. I make a motion for immediate consideration.
Ladyman [01:29:42] Representative Pilkington, I have a question for you. I’d like to– for you to hold on that. I would like to give people in the audience an opportunity to speak. We got a couple of people that did not speak on the last bill. All right. All right, Senator, thank you. We’re going to call up a couple of people that have signed up.
Hammer [01:30:07] Mr. Chair, may I ask a question of the chair?
Ladyman [01:30:09] Yes, sir.
Hammer [01:30:10] I will be extremely brief. I just want to know whether I need to be listening intently to prepare for closing comments or if we go to immediate consideration, I’ll be precluded from that. Is that correct? I just want to make sure I’m on the same page with the chair.
Ladyman [01:30:23] You will be precluded from closing if we recognize that motion.
Hammer [01:30:28] OK. I just want to be mentally prepared. Thank you.
Ladyman [01:30:31] But as an equal member of the Legislature, I would listen intently. Paul Calvert, if you would please come to the end of the table.
Calvert [01:30:46] I respect your time and efforts. I think my testimony before–
Ladyman [01:30:51] Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Calvert. Matt Gilmore and Laura Shue. If y’all would go to the end of the table to speak against the bill. Please introduce yourself and who you represent.
Gilmore [01:31:28] Matt Gilmore, Department of Health.
Shue [01:31:30] Laura Shue, general counsel for the Department of Health.
Ladyman [01:31:32] You’re recognized.
Gilmore [01:31:34] Thank you, Mr. Chair. As we have spoke on this– against this bill in the previous testimony, just wanted to mention a few things that we still have concerns about with the bill. As far as to who would be required to test and not test, the bill is not clear as to is that exposed individuals or as a surveillance testing. That needs to be fleshed out, we believe. The requirement to– or the the the exemption that would allow, you know, one test per week that’s been discussed before, we feel like that should be at least twice a week just because of the nature of the virus. Wanted to point that out. And then also with the two times per year for proof of antibodies and immunity, you know, we don’t really know as far as the time frame as to what length of immunity is, is with the virus. Looking at about 90 days, so about three times– excuse me, every three three months is what we have looked at at that. So we appreciate those– we appreciate what the bill is trying to do in some ways. But I think there’s lots of things that need to be answered and fleshed out. One more thing as well with the infection control processes for hospitals and other entities, health care entities– with– if the federal mandates come down, which we think they will this– there may be some limitations there for hospitals to be able to do that and this bill may have some conflicts there. So several things. But again, we want to also emphasize that we think that businesses, health care entities and so forth should have the right and should have the ability to require a vaccine if they so feel that it’s needed for their businesses, for their customers and employees. So with that, I’ll be happy to defer to Miss Shue if she has anything she wants to offer.
Shue [01:33:25] I have nothing else to add at this time. Thank you.
Ladyman [01:33:33] I’m sorry. That was all your comments?
Gilmore [01:33:36] Yes, sir. Thank you.
Ladyman [01:33:37] I was consulting here. All right. I’m not going to take questions, committee, unless– does somebody have a question? Rep. Bentley, you’re recognized.
Bentley [01:33:50] I have a quick question. Thank you. In light of your statement that you made before, are you not aware that there have been more adverse reactions reported for this vaccine than all other vaccines combined on the, on the VAERS reporting system of over 750,000 adverse reactions. 15,000 this– I’m going to repeat it again. 7,000 heart attacks, 6,600 instances of myocarditis that I know personally of my constituents, of course. Have you not aware of those that we have constituents have very concerns? They’re not crazy people. They’re people that have legitimate concerns. And are you not also aware that many people’s religious exemptions and their medical exemptions have not been honored and they’re still going to be fired? Are you not aware of that situation, Mr. Gilmore?
Gilmore [01:34:31] So with, with the VAERS reporting, that is a process that’s gone– that goes through the vetting process. You know, anyone can report anything. And I’m sure there are some concerns and some things have been reported that need to be fully investigated. But there’s a process for that. So they will take time to go through that and look at all that. So I understand what you’re saying there. As far as the exemptions, I think that’s important for employers to consider all. At the same time, I think it’s important for especially health care entities to have the right to require a vaccine if they so choose.
Ladyman [01:35:10] All right. Thank you for your comments. OK, we have one more person signed up to speak against the bill. Jodiane Tritt. Thank you. All right, Representative Pilkington, you’re recognized for a motion.
Pilkington [01:35:28] I motion for delayed immediate, immediate consideration.
Ladyman [01:35:33] That is a valid motion. It is not debatable. So, the motion is for immediate consideration. All in favor signify by saying aye. All opposed nay. Motion carries. OK. Representative Dodson had made a motion of do pass at the appropriate time. This is the appropriate time. So we have a do pass by Representative Dodson. OK. There’s no closing and no discussion. So the motion on the floor is do pass. All in favor signify by saying aye. Those opposed nay. The motion carries. Congratulations, senator, your bill is passed. Seeing no further business, we are adjourned.