There was too much time left in the legislative session, which is to end Tuesday. Plenty of time for more bad stuff this morning.

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But surprise. A House committee narrowly defeated a vote suppression bill. Also this morning, a committee gave a favorable review to a piece of legislation disingenuously positioned as in support of equality and a constitutional amendment disingenuously positioned as a further protection for religious freedom, already protected in the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions.

VOTING

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This was Sen. Kim Hammer’s SB 485 to eliminate early voting on the Monday before an election. Tens of thousands of people have been voting on Monday. He contends the bill helps election workers prepare for the Tuesday election.  Hammer, a Missionary Baptist preacher, said he wouldn’t consider making Sunday an early voting day. Opponents included the Benton County clerk, Betsy Harrell, who said counties could opt out of Monday voting now rather than mandating no Monday for anyone. She said it was a popular voting day in her county. And she said clerks’ duties had been already hampered this session by an earlier deadline for absentee ballot submission.

Chair Dwight Tosh declared the bill failed on a voice vote, but a roll call was requested. It got 10 votes, needing 11, and with Tosh declining to cast a deciding vote in favor. Several members were absent. Rep. Jim Dotson of Bentonville broke ranks from the Republican Party and joined his county clerk in opposition to the bill.

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RACISM

A House committee approved Sen. Trent Garner’s SB 627 to prevent the teaching of “divisive concepts.” This is a copy of a bill in New Hampshire widely derided as unconstitutional and meant to stamp out teaching in schools of things that people like Garner find uncomfortable, such as the discrimination against races, gender and ethnicities that is an enduring part of the fabric of American history.

The Senate Education Committee narrowly defeated another bit of headline-grabbing racial demagoguery. This was Rep. Mark Lowery’s HB 1761 on teaching about race in schools. It discourages teaching that suggests there’s systemic racism in America. He repeated the windy justification he’d given in the House and Committee Chair Missy Irvin declared it passed on a voice vote. But the roll call was 4-3 in favor, with one member not voting. It needed five votes for approval.

RELIGION

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A House committee approved SJR 14 for the 2022 ballot. It would limit any “burden” that government puts on religion. Thus, a person who claims a religious right to discriminate in hiring, housing or baking a cake would likely be protected. Some conservatives spoke against the bill, including Rep. Josh Miller, who described it as a “headline grabber and attention-getter.” He said religion was already protected. And he said there were better amendments proposed for the ballot. It was approved nonetheless, joining in the 2022 election a ballot initiative-killing amendment (it would require 60 percent voter approval) and an amendment to diminish the power of the governor by allowing the legislature to call special sessions.

The ACLU of Arkansas commented afterward:

“This legislative session has been a catastrophe for civil and human rights – and now state legislators are proposing a radical amendment to the Constitution that would subject Arkansans to even more harmful forms of discrimination,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “The unintended consequences of this measure would be severe and far-reaching, giving people a basis to challenge and exempt themselves from virtually any state law. If enacted, SJR14 would be among the most extreme of its kind in the country, putting Arkansas out of step with nearly all other states and jeopardizing our economy. Similar laws in Indiana and Arizona led to widespread boycotts, costing states millions in revenue. Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but it’s not an excuse to target, harm, or discriminate against people. We urge members of the House to oppose this dangerous and discriminatory amendment.”

Catastrophe. Good word.

PS: I won’t declare victory on anything. There’s still time for votes on the floor to extract bills from committee. It’s considered bad form, but if the Republican Party bosses declare the vote suppression bill MUST pass, they have the votes.