Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said Thursday he regrets signing a bill into law that bans state and local government authorities from implementing mask mandates as COVID-19 cases are increasing in his state.
The Republican governor told reporters that he had signed the bill because it was popular in the legislature and because COVID-19 cases were at a "very low point" at the time.
"I knew that it would be overridden by the legislature if I didn't sign it," he said, according to Newsweek. "I had already eliminated our statewide mask mandate."
Arkansas reported 2,343 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, according to state data. There are 19,499 active cases in the state and 1,250 people are currently hospitalized, with 260 people on ventilators.
Sixteen more deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the total number of deaths linked to COVID to 6,215.
With cases rising, Hutchinson wishes the mask mandate ban "had not become law." He said the only ways to change the law now would be by an act of the state legislature or a court ruling declaring the mask mandate ban unconstitutional. The governor's preference is for the legislature to act.
"If it's up to the courts, and the courts strike down that law as unconstitutional, that could mean we could have counties and cities all doing their thing," he said. "That would be confusing. It would be bad for business. It would be bad for the public understanding and our concentration on vaccinations."
The governor has called for a special session of the legislature to repeal the ban on school mask mandates. Hutchinson wants schools to be able to decide their own mask policies, which would require an amendment to a bill he signed into law prohibiting them from implementing mask mandates.
Hutchinson said at a news conference Tuesday that there will be no statewide mask mandate, nor a statewide vaccine mandate.
He did encourage students who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot to do so.
"They need to get vaccinated," Hutchinson said. "Parents can make the choice, the students could make the choice to get vaccinated."
Republican lawmakers appear opposed to changing the law before the school year begins. Lawmakers need two-thirds support in both the state House and the state Senate to approve a change in the law, and the Republican majority leader in the Senate told reporters his chamber won't even have a simple majority willing to change the law.
"In my opinion, we are a significant ways away from even having the 18 votes," Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey (R) said. "At this time, there is not a consensus to do that."