The hate crimes bill fix is in. It’s an abomination, but the business lobby, legislative leaders and the governor are behind it.

My apologies for missing the point entirely in an earlier post about the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement.

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The chamber said it endorsed SB 622, described as ensuring justice for people targeted on account of “who they are.” I overlooked the absence of several key words and erroneously presumed they were endorsing the original form of this legislation, which specifies protected classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The chamber statement was euphemistic word salad. It’s a cover to claim the state has a hate crimes bill, when it will have no such thing. It’s a transparent effort to get around legislative resistance to offering any express support based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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The new bill has already been denounced by the ADL (Anti Defamation League). And with good reason. I’ve asked the governor’s office for comment and have received none as yet, but you can be sure this has his blessing as has other transgender and LGBT persecution.

UPDATE: I was correct. His statement:

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“I am very appreciative of the work of key legislative leaders in crafting a new bill that makes it clear that Arkansas will increase the prison time for anyone targeting another for a violent crime because of their race or other characteristic.  While this is not the bill that I had envisioned at the beginning of the session, it is a significant step forward in giving assurance that we are a state that values the diversity of our country.  I particularly am grateful for the work of the Speaker and Pro Tem who have come together to provide a path to get this important bill filed and hopefully passed.”

The bill has the sponsorship of House Speaker Matthew Shepherd and Senate President Jimmy Hickey. Shame on them, too. Sen. Jim Hendren, the governor’s nephew and sponsor of the original bill, is not a sponsor, but he appears willing to give up the fight.

He issued this statement:

I am glad to see movement by the House and Senate leadership on passing a hate crimes bill. There is a lot of space between their bill and the bipartisan bill that Rep Love and I filed. I am not concerned about who sponsors the bill but that we pass a bill that is clear that it will provide real protections to those who have been victimized by hate crimes. I am hopeful we can find common ground on a bill that can pass and is also effective. I’ll continue to work toward that end.

Clear protection? I don’t see it.

Here are the wiggle words in a six-page bill about a bill to prevent the release of criminals for less than 80 percent of a sentence (rather than adding time to a sentence as the original bill did). It is a section for an aggravating cause for delaying release:

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(1) “Aggravating circumstance” means a defendant purposely selected the victim because the victim was a member of or was associated with a recognizable and identifiable group or class who share mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics; 2) “Delayed release” means that a person who receives a sentence of imprisonment is not eligible for parole unless the person has served at least eighty percent (80%) of his or her sentence; (3) “Purposely selected the victim” does not mean that a defendant’s mere abstract belief or expression was hostile or contrary to the victim’s being a member of or was associated with a recognizable and identifiable group or class who share mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics;

The bill says the state could ask for delayed-release on conviction of certain serious crimes. A judge or jury could make the determination, with a jury doing so as a second deliberation after a verdict of guilty.

The proposal states that it adds nothing to civil rights law (which omits LGBT people) or weakens the law that prevents local ordinances protecting LGBT people.

It is a sham intended to prevent additional soil to the reputation of the state and governor, while not saying a supportive word in support of LGBT people.  The bill doesn’t mention the words hate or gender or sexual orientation. How could these minorities presumed to be covered, a defense attorney will argue. State law explicitly prevents the protection of LGBT people and even explicitly discriminates against transgender children. If one were brutally raped, how could the state argue hate against a person the state wants to pretend doesn’t exist?

Sen. Hickey, who wouldn’t use the word hate, told the Democrat-Gazette he was sure transgender people would be a protected class. I don’t see any words, especially in the context of other law, that say this is so.

Here’s the ADL statement:

Today ADL denounced SB622 as misleading legislation masquerading as a hate crime bill.  The bill makes no reference to hate crimes and it provides no explicit protections to communities or individuals targeted by hate.  Yet the legislature and Governor have quickly moved forward with and enacted legislation that specifically discriminates against LGBTQ+ people.

Aaron Ahlquist, ADL South Central Regional Director, issued the following statement:

“The legislation filed today is in no way a hate crime bill and it is nothing more than an insult to vulnerable communities targeted by hate.  The juxtaposition of this bill, which fails to enumerate protected categories or even use the term “hate crime,” with the enactment of legislation that specifically discriminates against LGBTQ+ people is a giant leap backwards for civil rights in Arkansas.  The bill does not protect Arkansans from hate crimes and is merely an attempt to check a box saying that Arkansas is not the last state without a hate crime law.

Under this sham legislation, virtually any violent crime based on a person’s association or belief would be covered, including crimes targeting white supremacists or neo-Nazis. ADL vehemently opposes it and urges a complete overhaul of the bill to specifically address crimes targeting victims because of their race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.  Any legitimate hate crime legislation must include and be limited to these explicit categorical protections. These categories – addressing characteristics that people cannot or should not have to change – are needed to protect communities who are facing a very real and concerning rise in hate-motivate violence.

Should this bill become law, ADL will not consider Arkansas to be the 47th state with a hate crime law.  Its enactment not only would jeopardize the safety of some of the state’s most vulnerable populations, but particularly in conjunction with the State’s new anti-LGBTQ+ laws would more severely damage Arkansas’ already tarnished reputation as a welcoming state to all.  The bill’s failure to include categorical protections exacerbates the discriminatory message that the legislature has already created this session. This ugly and harmful message will undoubtedly influence whether businesses, tourists and others come to Arkansas as happened in Arizona, Indiana and North Carolina when they made similar decisions.”

The ACLU’s Holly Dickson said:

Arkansas has no problems naming sexual orientation or gender identity in bills to attack people, but we can’t specify these categories when we want to protect people.

Hate crimes laws tend to be ineffective, inequitable and fraught with legal peril and lead to thought policing. They tend to be used to target people who are in the minority. Keeping people in prison longer will NOT prevent or address hate crimes.

Arkansas has tried for years to pass a hate crimes law. The reason we can’t get it right is because we as a state can’t acknowledge that LGBTQ people should have any civil rights.

 

Until our politicians and powers that be stop trying to be first to suppress the rights of LGBTQ people, especially children, we should pass NO hate crimes law, especially this one.

The first thing to do about hate crimes is to not foster them. That means we need to reverse course and show we are ready, willing and able to apply our laws equally and protect people against discrimination in the first place. SB622 is regressive. It departs from prior measures filed this session and it does not specifically include gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact, it explicitly states that it does not amend the state civil rights law or the law prohibiting cities and counties from providing civil rights protections. Why? If anything, we should start strengthening our state civil rights laws so people don’t have to risk their jobs, homes, families, and healthcare because of who they are or who they love.

Some people seem to be so afraid of LGBTQ Arkansans having civil rights that they can’t even specifically regulate hate leading to injury and death when it is motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. Arkansas needs to start leading by positive, not regressive example.

 

My apologies for my huge error in missing the development earlier today. I hereby change the I for incomplete awarded the chamber to F. And give me at least an I for this original account, in which I didn’t bother to look up the bill (F for that):

 

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce has issued a statement urging the legislature to pass SB 622, which enhances penalties for crimes committed on account of hatred of various classes of people.

(Editor’s note: The phrasing was mine, relying on my misperception that this was the original proposal. I should have tumbled to the careful chamber wording: “The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas supports SB 622 and applauds our elected leaders for sending a message that crimes targeting individuals simply because of who they are will NOT be tolerated in our state.” It sends the message the ADL received.)

It notes Arkansas is one of only three states without such a law.

“We work hard to make sure Arkansas is known as one of the best places to do business, live, and visit,” said Randy Zook, President and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas.  “Employers looking to create jobs, and employees looking to locate value equity and inclusion. They want to ensure they’re choosing a state that is welcoming and safe for their families. We ARE that state, and  we must make it known,” said Zook.

“If we don’t pass a meaningful measure this session, we could easily find ourselves the only state in the country without a similar law on the books. It’s difficult to express just how damaging that distinction would be for future growth and development opportunities in our state, and for the thousands of current and future employers across Arkansas who want to ensure their employees are valued and protected.”

I grade this statement INCOMPLETE.

National attention is already pouring on Arkansas for nation-leading restriction of women’s medical autonomy and, lately, its single-minded pursuit of punishment of transgender people and sexual minorities.

This is relevant because it’s precisely the protection the hate crimes bill adds for LGBTQ people that is currently moribund in the legislature. The haters, led by the poisonous Family Council and its many legislative acolytes, have said they MIGHT be OK with this bill if protection of sexual orientation and gender is eliminated.

Talk about a signal to the rest of the country. We REALLY are as hateful as the pile of anti-trans legislation illustrates.

The chamber has enough lobbyists at work to know the political reality. Its silence on the real issue tells you just how bad the Arkansas legislature has become. Sen. Bob Ballinger made it clear in committee the other day: Criticize us and don’t bother to expect us to listen to your testimony.