Little Rock is continuing to require masks after questions were raised about the legality of the mask mandate.
On Tuesday, March 30, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced that the city would continue with its mask mandate despite the lifting of a statewide mask mandate. Earlier that day, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a weekly COVID-19 press briefing that the mandate would be lifted immediately.
In social media posts, Scott said that Little Rock would maintain the mask mandate for 30 days and review it at that point.
Since that announcement, media organizations have questioned the city’s ability to mandate mask usage under current conditions. KARK investigative reporter Susan El Khoury wrote that the city’s mask mandate expired July 10, 2020 after a Declaration of Local Emergency was issued that required masks in all public buildings when social distancing was not possible.
Scott addressed the issue during a discussion of his proposed penny sales tax initiative on Wednesday, March 31. According to Scott, the lack of authority was misinformation.
Little Rock chief deputy city attorney Alexander Betton stated that the original declaration of local disaster and emergency was issued on March 26, 2020 and lasted for 120 days before expiring on July 24. It was amended on June 25 to include face coverings.
The declaration was reissued on August 21 with no significant changes and expired on Dec. 29. On that date, the city issued declaration 20-08, and it is set to expire on April 28. The city also issued declaration 21-01 to amend declaration 20-08 to include the mask mandate.
“When you’re in a state of city emergency, you generally have 120 days under that emergency. If it expires, you do not need necessarily a city board authority, but if you have to continue it on the 121stday, that’s when you require the city board authority,” Scott said. “So, when there’s time appears to have elapsed based on the law, and you reissue it, you still remain in authority.”