ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT: Hours and boundaries would change under proposed ordinance.

Two Arkansas cities will take up hate crime proposals this week.

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The Little Rock City Board on Tuesday will consider this ordinance, led by Director Kathy Webb, to enhance penalties for those who commit specified misdemeanor offenses “by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, regardless of the existence of any other motivating factor or factors.”

The covered offenses include personal injury and property damage, including defacing of monuments. The city attorney’s office would have the responsibility for deciding whether these penalties would be sought.

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Also Tuesday, the Hot Springs City Council will consider a resolution urging the state to adopt a hate crime law with enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by hate. Governor Hutchinson has said this will be one of his priorities in the 2021 legislative session. Arkansas is one of only three or four states without such a law, according to an Anti-Defamation League attorney quoted in a Democrat-Gazette article today about the city proposal.

The Little Rock action comes less than a week after the governor proclaimed that he found unacceptable a patchwork of city ordinances to enforce coronavirus safety rules. He WOULD accept a model ordinance, without enforcement provisisions, that would be uniform across the state.

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The local effort is also interesting in light of the 2015 state law which prohibited cities from extending civil rights protection for categories not covered by the state civil rights law. The law was passed to prevent cities from extending protection to LGBTQ citizens. Hutchinson didn’t fight it.

The Little Rock hate crime enhancement will include penalties for crimes motivated by hatred on account of gender identity or sexual orientation.

A draft of proposed state hate crime legislation would include this as well. For that reason, it has already drawn criticism from the same legislators (they call themselves religious) who opposed extending civil rights protection to LGBTQ people.

Also on the Little Rock City Board agenda this week:

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  • A continuation of the debate over a new curbside recycling contract, with a proposal pending for a 25 percent rate increase for Waste Management in return for some expansion of the items that could be recycled.  Return of glass recycling is a major element of the debate.
  • Amendments to the boundaries and hours of the River Market Entertainment District, which allows people to walk on the streets in the district with open containers of alcohol. Hours would become 8 a.m. to midnight daily (and 2 a.m. on Jan. 1) where they are now 5 p.m. to midnight on Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. In addition to the River Market hall and pavilions, the district, which now runs along Clinton Avenue from Cumberland Street to I-30 would add one block each on either side of Clinton on Rock and Commerce streets:
  • To create a South of Main temporary entertainment district for eight weeks starting this week. It would benefit restaurants on South Main for people to be able to drink alcohol at the temporary outdoor dining area established at 13th Street in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The state ABC has said existing permits don’t allow restaurants to use the area for drinks unless it is part of an entertainment district. This also will require approval of a change in city ordinance to lengthen the time temporary entertainment districts may operate. They are currently limited to five consecutive days. The change would extend the limit to 120 days.
  • To approve modification of a lease with the operator of the Marriott Hotel for city-owned portions of the hotel to defer $112,000 in quarterly payments due in 2020. The money would be paid in eight installments with quarterly rent payments in 2021 and 2022. The hotel has suffered along with others from a drop in business during the pandemic.