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Members of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Task Force are calling for increased liability protections as the state continues to lift COVID-19 restrictions.
Steuart Walton, the grandson of Walmart Inc. founder Sam Walton who is leading the task force, shared highlights from the group’s interim report during the governor’s COVID-19 briefing on Thursday.
The report will be published on the Arkansas Ready website tomorrow. Walton said its recommendations include prioritizing COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
(Update: The report is now available here.)
But Walton said another concern among “employers of all stripes” is COVID-19 liability. He cited three ways to address this concern: with an executive order, with new legislation at a special legislative session or with new legislation at the regular legislative session next year.
Walton also said the task force sees uncertainty over the liability issue being “a potential drag on the state’s ability to recover economically” as shuttered businesses try to navigate reopening.
The recommendation around liability come weeks after the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas began pressing Gov. Asa Hutchinson to broaden lawsuit protections for Arkansas companies.
Last week, most Arkansas senators signed a letter asking the governor for an executive order and a special legislative session to provide protection for business owners and health care professionals. Utah has passed similar legislation.
“I think the benefit from the report is that it does express very clearly the high level of need for liability protection. Secondly, it helps to educate policy makers and decision makers on it,” Hutchinson said Thursday. “I’ve always supported reasonable tort reform, but as to which one of those alternatives is a good means to accomplish the recommendation, I need to hear more from the General Assembly.”
Hutchinson said workers have a remedy if they contract the virus at work: workmen’s compensation.
“It’s also very, very important that employers do the right thing,” Hutchinson added. “…The vast majority do exactly the right thing. In fact, they go even the extra mile to provide a safe workplace.”
The task force report also suggests continued investment in workforce training and expanding broadband access. It also recommends creating an advisory team to work with the Department of Human Services to develop a plan to restore childcare services and publicized information on childcare options.
“We expect the economic headwinds to persist as long as the virus is here,” Walton said. “These are inextricably linked crises, the economic crisis and the health crisis, and you’re not going to solve one without solving the other.”