LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Hate crimes laws have become a hot topic again at the Arkansas State Capitol, and after recent events across the country and in the state, lawmakers and advocates are urging the General Assembly to pass a comprehensive hate crimes law.
State Senator Jim Hendren filed his bill, SB3, before the session and says recent events have put the legislature on notice.
“This made it clear to the legislature that for us to adjourn, in this environment, without a hate crime bill, and be one of the only states without it, would be a failure,” Hendren explained.
Several groups held rally held at the capitol on Thursday to encourage lawmakers to pass a hate crimes bill. Joshua Ang Price with the Asian-American, Pacific Islanders Caucus said that after a Vietnamese man was assaulted in Hot Springs, it was evident Arkansas needed something to protect citizens and visitors of the state.
“We cannot have anybody feel afraid walking on the street, waiting for the Uber, going to the grocery store, that they may be targeted just for being who they are,” Price said.
Hot Springs passed a resolution supporting any hate crimes bill that would come from the General Assembly earlier this year. City board director Erin Holliday brought it before the city council and said visitors to the Natural State will especially take notice.
“By not having an anti-hate crimes law in Arkansas, we are sending a message that safety and protection or not our concern,” she told rally goers Thursday
Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd and President Pro Temp of the Senate Jim Hickey filed SB622 on Wednesday. It’s a similar bill to SB3 but is different in how it defines groups of people.
Hendren said the bill’s definitions are a too broad, but Shepherd contends every single class of people is covered, even if newer groups of people pop up in the future.
“Once we enact it, it’s there. You’re covered. Every class, every category, every group is covered, across-the-board, and really isn’t that the way it supposed to be,” the speaker noted.
The other major difference between the bills is how punishment is carried out for those violating the proposed laws. SB3 adds sentence enhancements to prison terms, while SB622 says 80 percent of a prison term must be served before being eligible for parole.
“Law enforcement, I think, will tell you that’s pretty strong, so our bill is more comprehensive and it’s actually more severe,” Sheperd said.
Proponents of a hate crimes bill say something must be passed in this regular session.
“We definitely, definitely need an inclusive hate crimes bill in our state,” Price said. “A comprehensive hate crimes bill that’s going to protect everyone in our state.”
Both SB3 and SB622 have been assigned to the Senate Judiciary committee where several members have been outspoken in their opposition of hate crime laws in the past.
Governor Asa Hutchinson has shown support for a measure, both in his State of the State address and when he recently signed an Arkansas “Stand Your Ground” bill into law.