Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed vaccine mandate opt-out bills and Congressional redistricting bills to become law without his signature, he announced at his weekly briefing Wednesday.

Regarding SB 739 and HB 1977, which the governor said were “similar bills that were passed by wide margins in the general assembly,” which would allow testing or proof of immunity as an alternative to vaccine requirements for employment.

“My objection is, first of all, that this is not appropriate to be considered in an extended general session. But substantively, beyond that, these bills are unnecessary, and the debate on these bills has been harmful to our goal of increasing vaccination rates in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.

The governor said that because the legislature didn’t pass the emergency clause, meaning it would not become law for 90 days, he believes that will allow enough time for the bills to be sorted out in court if needed.

He added that he would not issue an executive order similar to one Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did banning employers from having vaccine mandates.

“The private sector should not be over-regulated,” he said.

While he said he was “concerned about the impact of redistricting plans on minority populations,” the governor decided not to veto the redistricting bills “out of deference to legislative prerogative and instead to let them to go into law without my signature.”

“While the percentage of minority populations for three of the four Congressional districts do not differ that much from the current percentages, the removal of minority areas in Pulaski County to two different Congressional districts does raise concerns,” Hutchinson said.

The governor also gave a COVID update during the briefing, noting the state added 694 new cases and 19 more deaths, bringing the state’s death toll to 8,166. He said six fewer people, 531, were in the hospital with COVID as of Wednesday and 163 of those were on ventilators.

He said 6,951 vaccines had been administered over the previous 24 hours but that “roughly 50 percent of those are booster shots.”

The governor and Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero continued to stress the importance of getting vaccinated.

The governor noted that 89 percent of the new cases and more than 90 percent of the hospitalizations and deaths in the state are among people who are not fully vaccinated.

Romero said that with the likely approval of vaccines for children ages 5-11 coming next month, he wanted to urge parents to get their children vaccinated.

“During the surge, we showed a 94 percent increase of children hospitalized because of the virus and the biggest jump of cases occurred in that 5-11 year old group [who aren’t yet able to be vaccinated],” he said.

Jeanette Anderton can be reached at

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