Arkansas cities and towns will now be allowed to mandate the use of masks if they choose.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed a new executive order, authorizing Arkansas municipalities to adopt a model ordinance to mandate the use of masks. The ordinance, drafted by the Arkansas Municipal League, is not mandated for cities but is a “local option” if they decide to take action on masks.
“Earlier in the week, I started looking at a potential communication with the cities and a stronger partnership with the cities in terms of their desire, in some instances, to require the wearing of masks. I asked the Arkansas Municipal League to draft me a model ordinance that would allow cities that opted to do that the opportunity to require a mask under this model ordinance,” Hutchinson said.
In recent weeks, cities have taken action to implement ordinances requiring masks in public. Fayetteville was the first city to mandate masks in certain public spaces, followed by Little Rock. Hutchinson voiced his opposition to local efforts to mandate masks at the time.
During the Friday afternoon press conference, he explained that his opposition was based on two factors: his belief that mask wear should be based on public education and that the educational mission had not been completed, and a desire for consistency across the state.
“We wanted to rely on public education first to increase the awareness of that. Clearly, I think the survey shows that the public is largely aware of the benefits of wearing a mask and many of them do,” he said, referring to a study by the Runway Group.
Arkansas Municipal League general counsel John Wilkerson joined Hutchinson at the press conference to provide an overview of the masking ordinance.
“We agree that consistency is incredibly important. Which is why that the ordinance – the model ordinance says that the cities will require the usage of masks in accordance with the guidelines of the Department of Health,” Wilkerson said.
Education will continue to be a significant part of the ordinance and enforcement of mask wearing, according to Wilkerson. He said that the model ordinance is based on the idea that not wearing a mask makes an individual a “direct threat” to the community by serving as a potential vector of COVID-19 transmission.
“The model ordinance says that cities will use law enforcement and city officials to educate and encourage the usage of masks, which we think is the most reasonable and appropriate way to continue to encourage and educate folks to wear masks,” Wilkerson said.
The ordinance is geared toward supporting local businesses as who we’ve seen have challenges in enforcing the requirement to wear masks. We make sure that local enforcement is available to assist local businesses who need – or find the need – to enforce the wearing of masks and need an extra tool at their disposal.”