As legislators prepared to go to the capitol this week for a special session to take up the debate about amending state law to allow local school districts to set their own rules for mask mandates within school grounds, Sen. Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) and Rep. Howard Beaty (R-Crossett) released a statement explaining their pre-session thoughts.

Beaty and Gilmore both voted for the law that will be debated, which bans local municipalities, including school districts, from setting their own mask mandates in response to public health emergencies. In the statement, both assemblymen noted that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and have chosen to wear masks in situations they consider appropriate, but also said that while the new strains of the virus that are circulating are dangerous they do not believe that government mandates are the answer.

The statement follows below in full:

“The growing number of cases here in Arkansas have brought mask mandates back to the forefront of the conversation. The Governor of Arkansas has called your legislators into a special session to discuss amending the new law, Act 1002 of 2021. Act 1002 specifically states that, “a state agency or entity, a political subdivision of the state, or a state or local official shall not mandate an individual in this state to use a face mask, face shield, or other face covering.” As your senator and representative, this is a bill that both of us voted FOR. So why is the Governor calling us back into session? With the rise of new daily COVID cases, there are some groups throughout the state, including certain school districts and their respective administrators, that believe we need to amend the law to allow school boards to mandate masks upon all students. That means that if the law is amended, you, as a parent, would no longer have the right to make this decision for your own children. As a teacher, you would no longer have the ability to decide what’s best for yourself. If amended, local school boards will be given the final say. Not the parent. Not the student. Not the teacher.

“Over the last few days, we have received many calls, texts, and emails from within our districts related to this issue. We have heard from parents, physicians, healthcare workers, educators, and school administrators on both sides of the debate. Each of these individuals bring different perspectives related to the well-being of children, and we rely on their guidance to make the best decisions for our children. However, the authority ultimately rests with the parent. From all the feedback we have received, the most common theme is parents concerned about the well-being of their child and whether they can do what they feel is best for them. The oldest societal institution is the God-ordained model of family, where God empowered and equipped parents with the inherent ability to love, guide, and care for their child—to do what they deem is best for their family. Some will disagree with that sentiment, and in fact, we have even received some calls stating as much. However, we still maintain the belief that parents should have the ultimate say in their children’s health and well-being. 

“As your senator and representative, we have made personal decisions to wear masks when appropriate and to take the vaccine. We have ENCOURAGED – and continue to encourage – you to utilize every tool in the toolbox to make the best decisions for you and your family. We have said as much from the beginning of this pandemic on Facebook live broadcasts, radio, and when speaking publicly. The truth is that the risks are real, as are the resources to mitigate those risks. But it should be a personal decision whether to utilize those resources to protect yourself and your family.

“Yes, we recognize the dangers associated with this new strain of the virus, but we do not believe a government mandate is the answer. It rarely is.

“America is built on the phrase of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is always worth fighting for. As your state senator and state representative, we believe in fighting for liberty and preserving individual freedom and personal responsibility. The passage of Act 1002 of 2021 did just that. Unfortunately, we are being called back to Little Rock to change the law, and the argument from those who support this effort is “local control.” While we believe in local control, we subscribe to purer form of it in that the individual, in this case the parent, should be the ultimate decider. The decision to wear a mask or not to wear a mask should be, and now is, your choice.

“When you elected us, we promised to always fight for you, your liberties, and your ability to make decisions.”

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