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Judge Blocks State From Enforcing Mask Mandate Ban

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction against the law that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed in April banning mask requirements by governmental entities. Fox ruled against the measure on multiple grounds, including the argument that it discriminated between public and private schools.

Fox issued the ruling hours after lawmakers adjourned a special session that Hutchinson had called to consider rolling back the ban for some schools. Hutchinson had said the change was needed to protect children under 12 who can’t get vaccinated as the state’s virus cases and hospitalizations skyrocket.

Hutchinson was named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with the state and legislative leaders. He left open the possibility of separately asking the state Supreme Court to uphold Fox’s ruling when it’s appealed.

Pediatricians and health officials have said masks in schools are needed to protect children, as the delta variant and Arkansas’ low vaccination rate fuels the state’s spiraling cases. The state on Monday reported its biggest one-day increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, and the Department of Health on Friday said only 28 intensive care unit beds were available in the state.

The House and Senate on Friday gave final approval to the only other item on the session’s agenda, legislation aimed at preventing the state from resuming supplemental unemployment insurance payments to 69,000 people in the state. 

A state judge last week ordered Arkansas to resume the payment, ruling that Hutchinson didn’t appear to have the authority on his own to cut off the payments. Hutchinson was among more than two dozen GOP governors who ended their states’ participation in the federally funded payments, which were scheduled to run through early September.

See the full article from Arkansas Business here.