LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Asa Hutchinson pushed back on new federal vaccine mandates Thursday, saying the results would be significant and that the plans would cause hardships for Arkansans.
In a news conference from the Capitol Building, Hutchinson said he believed that businesses should have the freedom to decide themselves if mandates should be implemented for employees to be vaccinated.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released details of the new plan earlier in the day, which requires companies with 100 or more employees to have employees fully vaccinated by January 4. After that date, employees who are unvaccinated would have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly.
The guidelines also say that employers have to start offering paid time off for employees to get vaccinated or if they have side effects from the vaccine starting December 5.
Hutchinson outlined that the new regulations apply to both full and part-time workers, though employees of state and local government, as well as though work for schools, do not have to comply with OSHA rules.
Health care workers treating patients with care paid for by Medicaid or Medicare will also need to be fully vaccinated by January 4, a rule that will cover around 17 million workers in the health care industry.
Federal officials also pushed back the vaccination deadline they had set for federal contractors, moving it from December 8 back to January 4.
Hutchinson noted that the Human Development Centers in Arkansas are under federal contracts and that 45% of the employees there are unvaccinated and could lose their jobs.
The governor noted that since contract employees don’t have the same options to choose weekly testing over vaccines, there could be hundreds out of work, leaving the centers short-staffed as the pandemic continues.
Hutchinson said Thursday that he plans to support efforts by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to file suit in order to block the new rules from taking effect, noting that he believes there is a constitutional challenge to be made and saying he thinks this is the first time the federal government has usurped power from states in a public health emergency.
Rutledge has already joined Arkansas with nine other states in a lawsuit pushing back against the mandates for federally contracted workers in the state.
Lawmakers in Arkansas earlier this year passed measures that would exempt workers from the vaccine mandate if they can prove they have COVID-19 antibodies.
Hutchinson did not sign the bills but also did not block them, saying that while he did not agree with the federal mandate, he also did not think more legislation was the answer to the issue. He also shared concerns that he thought the bills could slow vaccination rates in Arkansas.