Senate Public Health

October 6, 2021

 

Bledsoe [00:00:00] Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to start our meeting. The chair sees a quorum. And Senator Hammer, you have– you’re running House Bill 1977. You are recognized when you get settled. 

 

Hammer [00:00:28] Thank you, Madam Chair, Members of the Committee. Kim Hammer, State Senator, District 33. Here to present House Bill 1977, Madam Chair. 

 

Bledsoe [00:00:37] All right. You’re recognized. 

 

Hammer [00:00:39] This is a identical, identical bill to Senate Bill 739. And the committee has heard it debated heavily, and the committee was very gracious to let 739 out of committee to go to the floor. And so I’m not going to belabor the point. I think I would like to save some comments for my closing comments, if I would, Madam Chair. Unless there are any questions, I’m ready to go to whatever direction the chair wants to take this in. 

 

Bledsoe [00:01:08] All right. Any questions from the committee? All right. Seeing none, we have some people that are signed up to speak on the bill and against the bill. All right. Mr. Hudson, Department of Commerce, you’re speaking on the bill and you are recognized. 

 

Hudson [00:01:31] Thank you, Madam Chairman. Jim Hudson, Department of Commerce. I’m not going to belabor the point. Y’all have heard plenty of testimony about, about these bills, and so I’ll just refer you back to my previous testimony. One particular issue I just want to draw your attention to that we really haven’t talked much about, in this particular bill, there is an emergency clause. For Sen. Hammer’s bill, I don’t believe the emergency clause passed. The concern that we’re hearing from businesses, particularly for small businesses who don’t have a vaccine mandate– they’ve not made that choice to do that, but they are going to be subject to the federal mandates. And so there’s just a little bit of confusion out there, and there’s going to be some questions about how you implement that and how you implement this. And I think as, as a kindness to our business community, in particular our small businesses, our restaurants, our hospitals– if we could give them just a little bit more time to study the bill, understand how to run it in their particular business, I think that would be helpful. So with that, I’m happy to take any questions the committee may have. 

 

Bledsoe [00:02:34] All right, committee, do you have questions? Mr. Hudson. All right, seeing none, thank you so very much. 

 

Hudson [00:02:41] Thank you, ma’am. Thank you, committee. 

 

Bledsoe [00:02:41] All right. That was on the bill. We’re going to have DFA. Mr. Alan McVey, if you would come forward. He is speaking against the bill. 

 

McVey [00:02:57] Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. Alan McVey, Department of Finance and Administration. And I, similar to Mr. Hudson, I appeared last Friday, and with respect to Senator Hammer’s Bill, 739, our objections or our concerns would be the same with the House version of this bill. We did issue a fiscal impact statement from DFA with respect to– we did identify the fact that testing is an eligible activity for the American Rescue Plan funds. But our concern going forward is the potential cost and how the the potential costs could outstrip the available funds. And so I would just refer back to my remarks on Friday as well and be happy to answer any questions. 

 

Bledsoe [00:03:42] All right. Did you have a copy for– wait just a minute, please. Mr. McVey, did every– did you bring enough copies for this to be– 

 

McVey [00:03:55] I did not bring enough copies, but my understanding was that the fiscal impact statement had been distributed. Is that correct? 

 

Bledsoe [00:04:02] Does everyone have a copy of this? OK. All right now, Senator Sullivan, you are recognized for a question. 

 

Sullivan [00:04:12] Thank you, Madam Chair. I think last week we asked for the data on how you calculated the testimony that you gave. Did you ever send that to the committee? 

 

McVey [00:04:22]  I provided the rough scenarios that we used. We simply used a number of 25,000 potential employees at $100 per test over the extended period of time that the the money would or the test would be available for, for refunding. 

 

Sullivan [00:04:44] Ok, so you didn’t calculate any other assumptions in there other than a flat number? 

 

McVey [00:04:48] Yes, sir. 

 

Sullivan [00:04:48] Okay, thank you. I don’t guess I saw that. I guess I missed that email. Sorry. 

 

Bledsoe [00:04:54] All right. Any other questions? Seeing none, thank you so very much for your testimony. We’re going now to for. Paul Carvet. Maybe Calvert? OK, you’re recognized. 

 

Calvert [00:05:20] Thank you, committee. My name is Paul Calvert, and I kind of wanted to address just kind of one issue that has been a little bit of heartburn for me and I think probably for a lot of y’all. And that is the argument from some that this is going to violate free market principles for private business owners. And I think that’s a, I think it’s a valid concern. And I would like for this issue to be addressed, addressed a little more forcefully than what I’ve seen it so far. There are some people that may be not always real strong on the side of free markets that are coming out and making those arguments. And I think that business owners generally should, or private business owners generally should have the right to make decisions about what their employees should do, even if those decisions are unreasonable or cause hardships for the employees. They can, employees can find other employment if that’s where they want to go. However, one of the problems that we have have developed over the last decades is that some of these really big businesses, these big giant corporations, have become so entrenched in government that they’re no longer truly private businesses, I think, in many respects. And so I think that, that can justify greater regulation and greater controls over the way that some of these businesses run their business because they are not private businesses in the traditional sense of maybe I take my life savings and go out and start a business, and if it fails, I lose everything. Whereas some of these giant businesses, they’re protected by the corporate, corporate status of the corporation. And so in many respects, I think these giant corporations are not truly private businesses, and I think that is one of the, one of the reasons why some of these, if you will, violations of the free market are justified. And I think that is a reason for why we can justify taking these measures in a way that normally would violate the principles of free markets and the idea of private businesses, business owners being allowed to do as they please in their private businesses. 

 

Bledsoe [00:07:49] All right. Thank you. Any questions from the committee? All right. Seeing none, thank you so very much. 

 

Calvert [00:07:55] Thank you. 

 

Bledsoe [00:07:56] All right. Matt Gilmore, Arkansas Department of Health, speaking against. You’re recognized. 

 

Gilmore [00:08:12] Matt Gilmore, Department of Health. 

 

Thompson [00:08:13] Charles Thompson, Department of Health.

 

Bledsoe [00:08:15] I’m sorry, the last name? 

 

Thompson [00:08:18] Sorry, chair. Charles Thompson, Department of Health. 

 

Bledsoe [00:08:20] All right. Thank you. You’re recognized. 

 

Gilmore [00:08:22] Thank you. Committee, y’all have heard my testimony on this bill. I don’t want to belabor that with you all again. I know Senator Hammer’s heard it several times and I appreciate you all listening to us. We have concerns. We’ve mentioned those with the number of tests required per week. With the process that was laid out in the bill for the testing for immunity, we have issues with that. And then, too, we just want to mention that this may be– there may be issues with this with hospitals and entities, especially healthcare entities that want to have or have to follow infection control processes. So just want to mention that. And then again, as I mentioned before, we don’t know what the federal government is going to come down to do and how that may impact all this. So I don’t want to take any more of your time. I appreciate you all listening to me and your comments. Thank you. 

 

Bledsoe [00:09:07] All right. Do you care to say anything, sir? 

 

Thompson [00:09:12] No, no. I’m good, Senator. Thank you. 

 

Bledsoe [00:09:14] All right. Thank you. All right. Any questions from the committee? All right. Seeing none, thank you so very much. 

 

Gilmore [00:09:21] Thank you. All right. Ray Layman. 

 

Layman [00:09:27] You said it correctly. It doesn’t happen very often. Thank you.

 

Bledsoe [00:09:29] Well, have a seat. You’re recognized. 

 

Layman [00:09:36] I just have two very brief points. The first is to compliment. I fled the state of Nevada when it went deep blue and I came here and I want to compliment this legislature on what I think is the most politically conservative legislation I’ve– legislature I’ve ever witnessed in my life. You all did a fabulous job for us. Things could have been a little bit better, but thank you. My second point is I heard a comment today about giving the businesses a little bit of time to figure out how to work within this. Will those businesses give the employees a little bit of time before they’re fired? That’s my only question. Thank you very much. 

 

Bledsoe [00:10:19] Any questions from the committee? All right. Seeing none, thank you so very much. And then Jodiane Tripp against. Hospital, Arkansas Hospital Association. 

 

Tritt [00:10:37] Yes, good morning, I’m Jodiane Tritt. I’m the executive vice president of the Arkansas Hospital Association. My comments will be very brief. I know that you’ve all paid a lot of attention to everything in the House Committee as well as in yours, and I, too, want to compliment the collegiality of all parties involved. So thank you for listening to us and our concerns and doing your very best to work within the parameters that were given. To that end, we are very concerned about the the specific exemption processes in the bill. We do know that OSHA will come down with employer rules for employers who have more than 100 employees. We also know in the hospital world in particular that the Medicare conditions of participation for infection control will also govern whether vaccines will be mandated for our employees or not and will outline also exemption processes, if any. We’re concerned that the exemption processes in this bill might not conform completely with either the OSHA guidelines or the Medicare conditions of participation, which will put hospitals in an untenable position to have to choose to follow federal regulation or state law. I do thank you all very much for your time and look forward to continuing to work with you on other issues. 

 

Bledsoe [00:11:56] All right, any questions? All right, thank you so much. We appreciate that. All right, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard the bill. You’ve heard for and against. Do you want to close for your bill? 

 

Hammer [00:12:11] Thank you, Madam Chair, and I’ll be brief. I think the concerns that have been expressed, and I appreciate the manner in which they’ve been expressed, first of all. And I appreciate living in a democracy where we can agree, disagree, or we can agree to disagree. And in this case, I agreed to disagree with the positions that have been taken because I think there are workarounds for each one of them. Where there is not a workaround is for the employee who in the next few weeks will be terminated because of a forced vaccine, vaccine requirement on them. And what this does is protect those hard working employees who are not looking to leave their employment. They’re being forced to leave their employment. And I think what this does is create a remedy for that pathway forward. I will not belabor the point any longer other than just to say that I would appreciate a good vote from the committee. With that, Madam Chair, I will make a motion do pass for this bill. 

 

Bledsoe [00:13:06] All right, thank you. Do I have a second. All right. All those in favor say aye. All those opposed. Congratulations. You’ve passed your bill. 

 

Hammer [00:13:17] Thank you, Madam Chair, members of the committee, and the community. 

 

Bledsoe [00:13:19] All right. And we thank you for being here to the audience. And with that, we are adjourned.