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Arkansas judge blocks ban on mask mandates governor regrets signing

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) appears to have had his wish granted after a judge blocked the state from enforcing its ban on mask mandates.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction Friday against a law Hutchinson signed in April that prohibits local government authorities from imposing mask requirements, the Associated Press reported. The law was challenged by two parents of public school children who are too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the Little Rock and Marion school districts in a separate lawsuit.

Fox said the law violated the Arkansas Constitution by treating public and private schools differently.

He ordered that the law "cannot be enforced in any shape, fashion or form" until the lawsuits are resolved.

Days before, Hutchinson told reporters that he regrets signing the ban on mask mandates and wishes that the legislature would repeal the law as COVID-19 cases surge in Arkansas.

"In hindsight, I wish that had not become law," the governor said at a news conference.

He added that if the legislature will not act, it would be up to the courts to strike the law down and "that could mean we could have counties and cities all doing their thing." Fearing this outcome would be confusing, Hutchinson called for a special session of the legislature to repeal the ban on school mask mandates.

But lawmakers adjourned the special session hours before the court issued its ruling without changing the ban on mask mandates.

A state House panel on Thursday rejected two measures that would have permitted some school districts to issue mask requirements, KATV-TV reports.

Republican lawmakers were opposed to altering the ban on mask mandates despite calls from schools to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance before classes resume in the fall.

The Marion School District of east Arkansas, one of the parties to the lawsuit against the ban, has placed more than 800 students and faculty in quarantine after an outbreak of COVID-19 infected 54 students and 11 staff members.

The school's lawsuit argued that mask requirements were necessary to protect the safety of both students and faculty.

"No rational reason exists for denying public school students, teachers and staff, and the school boards which are obligated to keep them safe, the ability to ensure that all who work and learn in our public schools are as safe as possible," the lawsuit stated.

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