Arkansas approves law allowing employees to opt out of COVID vaccine

An Arkansas law approved Wednesday will allow employees to forgo vaccination against COVID-19, so long as they take alternative actions.

The new law will let employees opt out of COVID-19 vaccine requirements as long as they get tested weekly or can prove they have antibodies for the virus. The law will not go into effect until next year, giving the state more time to weigh its effect on businesses and for any court challenges to be filed, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, according to the Associated Press.

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"The solution is not to place employers in a squeeze play between the federal government and the state government," Hutchinson said. "Employers need the freedom to protect their employees and their customers, and the government should not interfere with that freedom through mandates."

Despite approving the law and being a critic of President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate, Hutchinson did not sign the bill himself. Instead, the governor let the bill sit on his desk for five days — in the state of Arkansas, a bill becomes law with or without the governor's signature after five days of inaction.

Hutchinson described the debate on these types of bills as "harmful to our goal of increasing vaccination rates in Arkansas."

In late April, Hutchinson signed a ban on state and local mask mandates that went into effect in late July. Hutchinson later admitted he thought the ban was not a good idea, as Arkansas saw a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Arkansas's new law banning businesses from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine follows other states' attempts to defy Biden's mandate. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Monday, banning requirements for individuals to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status.

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A Florida county was fined over $3.5 million for firing employees who were unvaccinated, a violation of the state's ban on vaccine mandates.

As of Tuesday, Arkansas has 6,702 active cases of COVID-19. Approximately 53.4% of the state's population is fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the state's Department of Health.

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