Region & State

Sanders reverses predecessor’s position on mask mandates

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

The Arkansas governor’s office asserts that it is unconstitutional for public entities to require people to wear masks as a COVID-19 prevention measure, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Wednesday, just over a week after taking office.

Sanders’ predecessor, fellow Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, signed a 2021 law prohibiting state and local governments, including public school districts, from implementing mask mandates.

January 10, 2023 Sarah Huckabee Sanders addresses the crowd after she was sworn in as the 47th Governor for the State of Arkansas. Sanders is also the first female governor for the state of Arkansas and the youngest governor in the United States. | Karen E. Segrave/Arkansas Advocate

Hutchinson later said he regretted signing the law, Act 1002, and instead said local government entities should decide for themselves whether to require masks.

In December 2021, Hutchinson said he was pleased with Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s ruling that the ban on mask mandates violated the Arkansas Constitution. The ruling came from an August 2021 challenge to the law from several parents, two school districts and Pulaski County officials. Fox placed an injunction on the law shortly after the suit was filed.

Fox’s December 2021 ruling stated that Act 1002 violated the separation of powers clause and the equal protections provision in the Arkansas Constitution.

Sanders, on the other hand, stated while running for office that there would be no coronavirus-related restrictions while she is governor, emphasizing “personal freedom and responsibility” instead.

“Arkansans need to talk with their medical professionals, with their doctors, and make the decisions that are best for their family and their kids,” Sanders said in a Wednesday  news release. “I promised in my inaugural address that here in Arkansas, government would never loom larger than liberty in our lives.”

Attorney General Tim Griffin said in Sanders’ news release that he looks forward to a ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court.

House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) and Senate President Pro Tempore Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) also supported Sanders’ decision in the news release. Both are defendants in the lawsuit in their official capacities.

“I welcome this development and believe it is consistent with the proper Constitutional authority of the legislative branch,” Shepherd said in the statement.

Last week, Sanders signed an executive order disbanding five COVID-19 committees and advisory groups that Hutchinson formed in 2020. None of the groups had been active in at least a year.

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  1. It’s not her job to decide w hat is or isn’t Constitutional. That’s up to the Supreme Court. It’s called separation of powers