Governor Hutchinson used his weekly news briefing today to say he would not stand in the way of the congressional redistricting plan and anti-vaccination legislation approved by the legislature last week. He’ll veto neither proposal (there are duplicate House and Senate bills for each) but allow them to become law without his signature.
He said the anti-vax bills were designed to push back against President Biden’s orders for larger employers. He said he opposed the president’s order, but the solution is “not to place additional mandates on employers at the state government level. It is not to put the employers in a squeeze play between the state and federal governments.”
He also said he didn’t support an executive order along these lines, such as the Texas governor has done.
He said the bill might increase unemployment, it shouldn’t have been considered under terms of the resolution that governed the recent session and that it was unnecessary. He also said the debate had been harmful to the state’s goal of increasing the vaccination rate. The bills “create distrust and additional hesitancy” about vaccines. He said they were safe, well-tested and carefully evaluated.
But he said he didn’t veto the legislation in part because it lacked an emergency clause. That leaves 90 days for courts to review the bills. He didn’t bringup that overriding a veto requires only a majority vote and would have been likely. He was asked about that and said that wasn’t the overriding reason. He said he’d vetoed bills before that the legislature overrode. But in this case, it would open the door to the legislature meeting further. Without a veto to override, the session will automatically adjourn Thursday.
He said the federal rules aren’t all in place yet, though requirements for federal contractors are now in effect. But he said there are conflicts left to be settled on differences in state and federal law. Both likely will have testing exceptions to vaccination, but the state allows someone to claim “natural immunity” by reason of past infection, a provision he said he didn’t expect in federal law. “We’ll have to wait to see how it plays out.”
The governor had expressed reservations about both legislation. He expressed reservations about legislation that interfere with private business decisions. The anti-vaccination measure that passed — and which can’t take effect for 90 days because an emergency clause wasn’t adopted — sets up a testing alternative for those who refuse to be vaccinated. Legal questions have been raised about the state’s ability to enforce rules on private businesses or to override rules of the federal government.
Redistricting splits Pulaski County into three congressional districts, with a decided impact on Black voting strength, an issue the governor had cited as a concern. Pulaski had been solely in the 2nd District.
In making his decision on the redistricting bill, he again today said the handling of Pulaski County “raised concerns.” But he said he wouldn’t veto it out of “deference to the legislative prerogative.” He said this will clear the way to a legal challenge of the bill, which is in the planning stage. He said he didn’t know the chances for a successful challenge, but he said the actual percentages are “incremental small shifts” of populations. Counties may be split, he said, but “how you split it” is the fundamental question for courts to evaluate.
Recent general trends continue. He lamented the slow increase in vaccinations.
He also showed a seven-day rolling average of deaths from the beginning of the pandemic. The decline is more gradual than a previous dip, the result of the more dangerous delta variant of COVID-19, he said.
The governor added little about the special session he’s expected to call Oct. 25 to cut the state income tax — likely by a cut of 5.9 to 5.5 percent in the highest tax bracket for those making more than $82,000 a year (or more than $164,000 for two-income families.)
He still doesn’t have the votes lined up for a call of the session. He expected to issue it next week. He said there will be some technical correction legislation. He was asked about attempts to add other topics, such as abortion, critical race theory and more vaccine mandate bills. A two-thirds legislative vote could open up the agenda, but he said he wouldn’t be adding an abortion bill to the session. “We need some guidance from the Supreme Court,” he said. He said he opposed abortion personally.
Nonetheless, he said of efforts to expand the topics: “It’s likely to happen.” He said the tax-cutting bills were critically important. And his agenda must be considered first. The legislature can then move on to other items “with a high threshold” of votes. He would not say what items he would or would not support.
He was critical of a governor’s ruling in Benton County that stopped a local school board’s mask rule for Bentonville school students. He said he still favored local officials being empowered to make such decisions.