Hutchinson vetoes coronavirus bill to refund business fines

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FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters in Little Rock, Ark. Hutchinson on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, signed into law legislation banning nearly all abortions in the state, a sweeping measure that supporters hope will force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its landmark Roe v. Wade decision but opponents vow to block before it takes effect later this year. (AP Photo/Andrew Demillo, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday vetoed legislation requiring the state to refund fines imposed on businesses violating coronavirus safety rules, as the state’s virus cases and hospitalizations continued to drop.

The sponsor of the refund legislation said he’ll seek an override Tuesday, which only requires a simple majority of both chambers of the Legislature. The bill would have required the state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Division to refund about $38,000 to bars and restaurants for violating the state’s rules, which included capacity limits.

“The only message sent by this bill is that the rule of law does not matter,” Hutchinson said in a letter to legislative leaders. “It is an affront to those citizens who diligently followed health and safety directives to protect themselves and their fellow Arkansans.”ADVERTISEMENT

Hutchinson last month lifted most of the state’s virus restrictions and over the weekend said he believed the state is on track to end its mask mandate on March 31.

The override fight comes as Hutchinson has faced pushback from some fellow Republicans in the Legislature over the state’s virus rules.

Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, the refund bill’s sponsor, filed a lawsuit last year with other GOP legislators challenging the state’s virus restrictions. That lawsuit was dismissed by a Pulaski County judge and an appeal is pending before the state Supreme Court.

“This is about the separation of powers and the people who elected us expect us to have a voice in the decisions that are made,” Sullivan said.

Hutchinson on Tuesday also signed into law a bill that expands the Legislature’s power to terminate an emergency declaration. Last week he allowed another measure preventing businesses from being penalized for customers not following virus rules to become law without his signature.

The governor in his letter said he disagreed with aspects of those measures, but called them an “appropriate exercise” of the Legislature’s power.

Arkansas’ COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday dropped by eight to 184. Its active cases, meaning ones that don’t include people who have recovered or died, dropped by 246 to 2,332. The state’s overall virus cases rose by 52 to 328,707 total since the pandemic began.

The state reported five new COVID-19 deaths, bringing its total to 5,544.

The Department of Health said nearly 960,000 of the 1.6 million virus vaccine doses allotted to the state have been given so far.

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