LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and members of the General Assembly presented a draft of proposed hate crime legislation Wednesday.
Governor Hutchinson announced he supports the passing of hate crime legislation during the next General Assembly in January.
Hutchinson said the draft bill is available to study and review. You can see the draft legislation by clicking here.
The draft legislation creates a sentence enhancement for offenses committed because of the “victim’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability, or service in the United States Armed Forces.”
Governor Hutchinson said he understands there will be vigorous discussion.
Hutchinson said 35 years ago, he was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas and prosecuted a white supremacist group who targeted people because they were Jewish or were other races or had different beliefs.
The governor said he announced his support last year before the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association.
Governor Hutchinson also said when he visited Harrison, he challenged city leaders to be a driving force.
According to Hutchinson, Harrison’s city leaders were at the State Capitol Wednesday because Harrison wants to be at the forefront of getting legislation done.
The governor said Arkansas needs to join the majority of the states that have already passed hate crime legislation.
The governor released the following statement after the news conference:
“I want Arkansas to say plainly and clearly that we will not tolerate violence against anyone because of their race, their religion, or because of who they are,” Governor Hutchinson said. “We don’t need new laws. We need to enhance the penalty for a crime when someone targets a victim because of a specific characteristic.
“We are at the point in our history that we must hold to a greater degree of accountability those people who target individuals because of where they were born, how they worship, or how they choose to live. I commend the legislators for their leadership in moving ahead with this legislation.”
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she supports the “much-needed, long overdue” hate crime legislation.
Attorney General Rutledge said many Arkansans, including herself, are people of faith and are taught that all are created equal and to love our neighbor.
Rutledge said the state must send a clear message.
The attorney general said she has long been a proponent to create hate crime legislation.
“This is a stain on our great state,” Rutledge said.
“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” Rutledge continues. “This is an Arkansas issue.”
Senator Jim Hendren, President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas State Senate, said he would “hate to be only of only three or the only one without hate crime legislation”.
Hendren said this is the beginning of the legislative process and to get to this point takes a lot of negotiation.
State Representative Fredrick Love said there is a broad range of support in the Arkansas House of Representatives.
Love said the effort to pass the legislation will be a struggle.
State Senator Joyce Elliott said if passing the legislation is a struggle, “we are up to it”.
Elliott said in 2001, she worked on hate crime legislation. She said it was introduced and passed without any fanfare. Elliott said the legislation ran into a roadblock at the House Judiciary. According to Elliott, members of the clergy spoke up against the bill because of the inclusion of sexual orientation. Elliott said the state does not currently have a hate crime law because she refused to take sexual orientation out of the bill.
Elliott said she has faith the bill will be passed, not as Democrats and Republicans but as people.
State Representative Nicole Clowney said she’s a mom of two, and kids get it that all Arkansans deserve to feel safe.
State Representative Clowney said in June, Brayla Stone, 17, a transgendered woman, died because others did not show Stone the same understanding Stone showed others.
Clowney said Arkansans value freedom and justice.
“Arkansas continues to find ways to reach for even better together,” said Clowney. “What we value most of all is one another.”
State Representative Tippi McCullough said she’s a member of the LGBTQ community and in the last few years, there have been several Black transgendered women killed, including Stone.
“Arkansas can speak for those who don’t have a voice,” McCullough said. “You are valued.”
McCullough said with a bipartisan effort, the state can do what 47 other states have done, which is show Arkansas cares about its people, all of its people.
State Representative Jeff Wardlaw said Arkansas should not be last, but the state is getting to the point of being last.
Randy Zook, CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce said, “We simply can no longer afford to turn people away or discourage them because they don’t look, act or worship the way we think they should.”
Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas said on June 6, a diverse group of 70+ pastors came together to denounce racism. You can see the statement of solidarity by clicking here.
DeYmaz said some 20 years ago, hate crime legislation was not able to pass due to lack of clergy support. According to DeYmaz, there is clergy support this time.
“This law allows the punishment of thoughts and beliefs. No one should be punished for what they think.
Family Council Executive Director Jerry Cox released the following statement following the news conference:
“Hate-crimes laws do not work. There is no evidence that these laws in other states have ever prevented a crime. This law can have bad consequences, because it allows activists judges to use this law as a weapon to punish thoughts, free speech, and other freedoms. We all wish hatred could be stopped by just passing a law against it, but this simply isn’t possible. Unfortunately, this law creates more inequality by favoring special categories of people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics. Why pass a law that has harmful consequences and does not work? It takes the focus off of passing good laws that will address meaningful police reform, inequities in prison sentencing, and other critical issues.”