Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson let a law go into effect allowing employees to opt out of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate.
The Republican governor on Wednesday allowed Senate 739 and House of Representatives bill 1977, despite disapproving of them for deterring people from getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These bills are unnecessary, and the debate over these bills has hurt our goal of increasing vaccination rates in Arkansas,” he said during a news conference. “For these reasons, I will not sign the bills. I will allow them to become law without my signature.”
Arkansas bills go into law if the governor doesn’t veto them within five days of landing them on his desk.
Legislation that allows employees to opt out of vaccine mandates comes in response to Biden enacting vaccine mandates last month for federal employees and companies with a workforce of 100 or more employees.
Hutchinson said he disagrees with the federal vaccine mandate, but the answer is not to introduce additional rules at the state level.
“The solution is not to get employers into a state-of-the-art squeeze game,” he said. “Employers need the freedom to protect their employees and their customers, and government shouldn’t restrict that freedom through mandates.”
Hutchinson went on to say that the federal mandate allows for exemptions for religious and medical reasons, while those who do not wish to receive the vaccine can have weekly tests.
He added that the bills and talk about the bills create suspicion and hesitation about the COVID-19 vaccines, which he said are “safe and have been carefully tested and evaluated”.
“Arkansans must be vaccinated, but not through federal or state mandates,” he said.
Another reason not to veto the laws is that they will come into effect in 90 days, allowing “critical times” to be judged and challenged in court.
Both bills were passed by an overwhelming majority in the state general assembly.
Arkansas is among the lowest vaccinated states in the country, according to the Mayo Clinic, with 56.4% of its nearly 3 million residents having at least one vaccination and 46.5% being fully vaccinated.