Arkansas Senate Democrats ask governor to close bars, extend protections for renters

Democrats in the Arkansas Senate asked Gov. Hutchinson to close bars, limit the size of gatherings and extend protections for renters in response to COVID-19 surge.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Democrats in the Arkansas Senate on Friday asked Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to close bars, limit the size of gatherings and extend protections for renters in response to the ongoing surge in coronavirus cases.

Many of the proposals from the Senate Democratic Caucus echo recommendations previously made by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Democrats currently hold nine of the 35 seats in the majority GOP Senate, and will hold seven when the Legislature returns next year.

“While individual actions and responsibility are needed to check the spread of this disease, the state can and should play a stronger role in protecting all Arkansans, both from the disease and its economic fallout,” the caucus said in a statement.

The caucus called for closing bars and, in counties with high rates of new cases, limiting restaurants to takeout or outdoor dining. Democrats proposed paying employees of the establishments an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits and providing additional support to the business owners. They also recommended the state extend a moratorium on evictions an additional six months.

Hutchinson rejected the caucus’ proposals.

“Putting more restrictions on businesses that are already struggling will result in hundreds of businesses closing their doors and thousands of Arkansans on unemployment and in the food lines right before Christmas,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

In response to Governor Hutchinson’s statement, Arkansas District 4 Senator Greg Leding said, “There are already food lines. There are already people struggling to put food on the table. Part of that reason is we’ve allowed our numbers to grow unchecked by not doing enough sooner. To get out of this sooner, means putting in place protective measures, common sense measures to help us bring our numbers under control.”

Nearly 195,000 people in Arkansas have contracted the coronavirus and 3,112 have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The state on Thursday reported a new record one-day increase in cases.

An official statement from the governor reads:

“The recommendations of the Senate Democrats call for more business restrictions and then for state general revenue to pay individuals and businesses for the losses.  Putting more restrictions on businesses that are already struggling will result in hundreds of businesses closing their doors and thousands of Arkansans on unemployment and in the food lines right before Christmas. This is not a time for one-sided solutions but for everyone to pull together and follow the public health guidelines.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this article.