The lieutenant governor of Arkansas doesn’t see the state legislature formally convening over mask wearing anytime soon.
Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin on Tuesday said at the monthly Q&A meeting in Fort Smith that he believes chances of a special legislative session over Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s July 16 statewide COVID-19 mask mandate are slim. District 80 state Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, agreed and said a legislative session may actually hamper the measures put in place by the state during the pandemic.
"There’s just no way one is going to happen before the (Nov. 3) election," Griffin said at the Q&A meeting in American Legion Post 31. "I can’t see it happening, but I think things could change."
Like officials in many states, Hutchinson has taken public backlash over his ordinance for a belief by many that it infringes individual rights. The ordinance requires anyone 10 years or older outside religious gatherings and without conflicting medical issues to wear face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In 1905 the U.S. Supreme Court in Jacobson vs. Massachusetts ruled states could enforce public health initiatives that would protect and benefit their populations. Griffin acknowledged that many legislators may agree with the governor’s action but would like to be more included in the legislative process that would lead to the mandate.
But Griffin also noted that in Arkansas, the executive branch is generally given "a lot of leeway" in these kinds of legal matters.
"The political case is one that you’re going to see more active than the legal case," he said. Fite said legislators should "act on reason rather than emotion" if they are thinking about taking action against the mask mandate.
Griffin said some lawmakers would like to convene not just on mask mandates but also on other issues. This school of thought adds appeal to the idea of a special session, he said.
Griffin also acknowledged the unpredictability of such sessions. Fite added that such a session could put telemedicine at risk, as well as other regulations that have been altered during the pandemic.
Griffin pointed out the legislature’s next regular session will be held the first two months of 2021.
Griffin prior to answering questions gave a speech at the legion post in support of law enforcement. He said he believes people who destroy property and disrespect law enforcement were not properly taught to respect those who protect and serve.
Griffin after the Q&A session told the Times Record he supported people’s right to protest and advocate for criminal justice reform as long as it did not result in destruction of property.