BIPARTISANSHIP REJECTED: Sen. Jim Hendren is a Republican who wants to work on race relations. Most of his colleagues aren't so enthused. (file photo) Brian Chilson

On Friday, the Arkansas Legislative Council soundly rejected a bipartisan effort by two senators to create a temporary legislative subcommittee to study race relations in the state.

The proposal, forwarded by Sens. Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) and Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), would have created an eight-member panel composed equally of Republicans and Democrats “with the goal of providing recommendations on ways to address historic and current divisions within the State, including proposals for legislative and nonlegislative changes” related to racial equality, “reciprocal understanding and acceptance” and equal opportunity. Nothing produced by the proposed subcommittee would have been binding.


That was still too frightening for legislators on the ALC, which is the General Assembly’s policymaking body when it’s not in session. Last week, Hendren and Elliott won the support of a narrow majority of those in attendance at the ALC’s Executive Subcommittee, allowing the proposal to advance to today’s meeting. It needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and fell far short. Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) said on Twitter that most members wouldn’t touch the issue:


In response to a user who condemned Republicans for not supporting the measure, Leding noted:

Today, September 15, is the anniversary of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama by Southern white supremacists in response to civil rights leaders’ demands for an end to segregation. The attack killed four young girls — Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley — and wounded 14 others.


Today in St. Louis, a white former police officer was acquitted of murder charges in the 2011 shooting of a black man Anthony Lamar Smith, following a car chase. Prosecutors said the officer, Jason Stockley, stated during the car chase that he was “going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it.” After the police SUV (driven by another officer) rammed Smith’s fleeing vehicle and it came to a stop, Stockley approached the car and shot Smith five times through the driver’s side window.

Here’s the concept that Arkansas legislators found so objectionable:

(2) Race Relations Subcommittee.

(A) Membership.
(i) This subcommittee shall consist of eight (8) members, four (4) Senate members and four (4) House of Representatives members. There will be no ex officio members of the subcommittee.
(ii) The House Majority leader and the House Minority leader shall each appoint two (2) House members to serve on the subcommittee.
(iii) The Senate Majority leader and the Senate Minority leader shall each appoint two (2) Senate members to serve on the subcommittee.

(B) Duties.
(i) The subcommittee shall conduct a study of race relations within the State of Arkansas, with the goal of providing recommendations on ways to address historic and current divisions within the State, including proposals for legislative and nonlegislative changes that:
(a) Encourage, promote, and achieve reciprocal understanding and acceptance among all racial and ethnic groups;
(b) Explore the use of statutory powers to ensure all people have access to equal opportunity free of harassment;
(c) Promote racial equality in all public services;
(d) Support local, regional, and state organizations, and employers in all sectors, in their efforts to ensure equality of opportunity and good race relations; and
(e) Raise public awareness of benefits that come to our state when we ensure fair treatment and equal opportunity to people of all races.
(ii) The subcommittee shall submit a final report on its activities, findings, and recommendations to the Legislative Council by December 1, 2018.

(C) This subcommittee shall expire December 18, 2018.