LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Senate Judiciary Committee Monday passed their version of a “hate crimes” legislation, Senate Bill 622. While the term “hate crime” doesn’t appear in the language of the bill, this is the closest Arkansas lawmakers will get this legislative session to passing a hate crimes measure – something Governor Hutchinson has made a priority.
The bill would delay the release from prison of certain offenders who were found to have targeted victims from “a recognizable and identifiable group.”
These include those targeted based on mental, physical, biological, religious, political, and cultural characteristics. The offender would first have to have been found guilty of committing or attempting to commit a “serious felony involving violence”, including murder and aggravated assault.
They would then be made to serve at least 80% of their sentence according to the bill.
SB622 faced an hour-long question and answer session, with sponsor Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R) presenting the measure and responding to comments. Sen. Jim Hendren (I) began by asking if the measure could be considered a hate crimes bill at all, considering that isn’t specified in the legislation. Hickey responded that “that’s going to be for those individuals or those businesses to decide.”
Hendren also presented an amendment to the bill that would specifically list and include traditional victims of hate crimes, including those targeted based on race, sexual preference, and gender identity.
Some lawmakers are concerned that the bill is too vague, with Hickey admitting during the committee that “[he] couldn’t think of” a group that wasn’t covered in the measure. The amendment failed to be adopted.
Two community leaders testified for and against the measure, with Jerry Cox of Family Council saying he was opposed to the bill. Cox said that other hate crime bills across the nation fail to stop violence and haven’t been proven to be effective, and worried that prosecutors would use the measure to “hammer down” on offenders, using every word and action against them.
On the other hand, Randy Zook of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce was supportive of the bill. He said members of the chamber were closely following the bill and were concerned about talent acquisition.
Zook shared that some talented workers had turned down job offers over a lack of hate crimes legislation in the state, and said Arkansas needs to send the message that it’s a great place to live and run a business.
The bill was passed by a majority vote, with Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R) voting “no”. The bill now moves to the full senate. You can read the full bill HERE.