A bill that would ban affirmative action in Arkansas passed out a Senate committee Tuesday. Sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro), Senate Bill 71 frames programs that gives special consideration to historically marginalized groups as “discrimination.”
“The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, an individual or group on the basis of race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin in matters of state employment, public education, or state procurement,” it reads.
Arkansas would be the ninth state to ban affirmative action, and the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to ban any consideration of race-based factors in higher education, which critics say will severely limit minorities from the best colleges and best jobs.
From Bloomberg Law:
When the practice ended in California, the state’s most selective campuses saw minority enrollment drop more than 50%, and earnings fall for Black and Hispanic graduates. University of Michigan still hasn’t fully regained its share of Black students, despite millions of dollars spent over 15 years. And at the University of Oklahoma’s largest campus, the number of Indigenous freshmen fell 11% in one year, despite the state being home to one of the largest Native American populations.
Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock), one of only two Democrats on the Senate State Agencies Committee and the only one in attendance Tuesday, was a lonely voice of reason.
“If this passes and becomes law, then the state of Arkansas is saying that discrimination no longer exists, racism no longer exists, sexism no longer exists,” Tucker said. The bill suggests that there’s nothing more the state should do to ensure that people who have been historically discriminated and historically disenfranchised get an equal shot, Tucker said.
That position is morally and factually wrong, Tucker said.
Sullivan brought an amendment to the bill that hasn’t yet made it to the legislative website and at least some of the committee members hadn’t seen ahead of the meeting. Tucker and several Republican committee members urged Sullivan to pull the bill back and allow the committee and the public time to review the amendment, but Sullivan declined and had the votes to move forward.
Tucker also noted that neither the bill nor the amendment addresses at least one area of existing law: the Minority and Women-Owned Economic Development Act. It’s a law that directs state agencies to attempt to make their goods and services purchases with diversity in mind. The act directs state agencies to direct at least 10% of spending toward minority-owned businesses and at least 5% of spending to women-owned businesses every year.
If Sullivan’s bill becomes law, a state employee who “negligently” violates the law would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Sullivan, always quick to take offense, said Tucker was effectively accusing him of racism. He said he agreed that racism and sexism still existed.
“This bill puts everyone on an equal field,” Sullivan said. “If the purpose of affirmative action is to give people who are in need a course of action, that’s exactly what the bill says. The bill says, people who are in need qualify. It doesn’t have to be race or sex or gender or whatever.”
Tucker later told Sullivan it wasn’t his intent to suggest that Sullivan is racist.
As to the negligent liability aspect of the bill, Sullivan said, “We’re serious against racism. We’re serious against people being taken advantage of or not having a seat at the table. If you’re going to treat people differently, we’re not going to stand for that and there will be a crime and a penalty, and we expect our state employees to take it seriously and make sure we don’t do that.”