The Arkansas Senate has distributed a news release about what Sen. Jim Hendren calls a bipartisan hate crimes bill.
The release indicates the Black Legislative Caucus is on board. When news of the idea first leaked out, at least one black legislator was quoted as noting no black legislators were mentioned in the report on the drafing effort by Hendren, a Republican, and Rep. Nicole Clowney, a Democrat.
The bill will face opposition from so-called religious conservatives because they’ve long opposed any sort of protection for sexual minorities. One of that number, Sen. Bob Ballinger, has already said the bill should include law enforcement as a protected category (a misdirection employed by Republicans at the national level against hate crime legislation). Arkansas law already provides enhancement of penalties for people who commit crimes against law officers. Sen. Jason Rapert, a dedicated anti-gay, is also raising a ruckus.
The news release didn’t include a draft or a list of response, but the highlighted part is the meat of it:
A bi-partisan group of legislators have come together to draft legislation to enhance penalties for crimes committed proved to be motivated by hatred of the victim’s attributes.
Arkansas is one of a few states without a hate crime law that enhances criminal penalties for targeting a victim because of that person’s attributes or situation.
Senator Jim Hendren emphasized that the legislation does not create any new crimes. It would enhance penalties for existing offenses, by no more than 20 percent, only after law enforcement authorities proved that the perpetrator chose the victim because of the victim’s race, national origin, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Some states have hate crimes laws that include police officers and first responders. Arkansas already has a law on the books that enhances penalties for crimes against those groups.
“A bipartisan approach is needed for this bill to pass,” Hendren said. “I know we can protect people who are potential victims of hate crimes, while at the same time instilling common sense procedures that will prevent abuse.”
For example, Hendren pointed out that the bill would make it a Class C felony to falsely accuse someone of a hate crime.
“It’s been a long time coming to get a Hate Crimes law on the books in Arkansas. But I think the situation unfolding this summer, and the death of George Floyd, have really shown us that we as a society are ready to move forward to a better future. This is the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it. This has the full support of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus,” said House Democratic Minority Leader Fred Love. “A Hate Crimes bill will by no means solve all of our problems, but it can deter people from acting on hatred.”
“No Arkansan should live in fear of being targeted for a crime because of who they are, what they look like, what they believe, or who they love. It is time for Arkansas law to send the clear and unmistakable message that hate has no home in our state” said Representative Nicole Clowney who helped write the draft.
Senator Joyce Elliott, who has been working on this legislation for the entirety of her career, said, “I pushed for Hate Crimes Legislation in my first term in the House, in 2001. It has taken the maximum amount of State House and Senate terms I’m allowed—nearly 20 years—for Arkansas to be ready for Hate Crimes Legislation. I won’t let this bipartisan moment pass.”
“To my colleagues in the legislature, think of your kids, your grandkids. They’re going to ask you what you did in this historic moment. As Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, I am proud that we stand in unanimous support of this proposal. Join us in moving forward with this bill, and help be a part of progress.”
UPDATE: Here’s a draft including sponsors.