LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ Republican-led House has rejected and effectively killed legislation aimed at banning affirmative action by state and local governments after critics said it would have gone much further than its architects said it would and threatened a host of programs around the state.
The bill rejected Wednesday on a bipartisan 51-27 vote would have prohibited state and local governments from granting preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity and national origin. It also would have applied to public schools and institutions of higher education.
Immediately after the vote, the House approved a procedural move that prevents the measure from being reconsidered.
“This bill here is not going to help us move forward,” Democratic state Rep. Fred Allen said. “It’s going to hinder us from moving forward. Not only that, this bill isn’t going to bring us together. It’s going to divide us.”
The proposal was rejected as GOP-led states are pushing for more restrictions on diversity programs and how schools can teach about race. It also comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a challenge to admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that use race among many factors in seeking a diverse student body.
The Arkansas bill also would have struck multiple references to racial minorities and other minorities from the state’s laws, including in areas pertaining to scholarships and teacher recruitment efforts.
Supporters of the measure had portrayed it as a way to address discrimination and to ensure that governments treat everyone equally.
“I’m not trying to say racism does not exist,” state Rep. Justin Gonzales, the bill’s co-sponsor, said before the vote. “It does, but one thing I am trying to say is you don’t stop discrimination with discrimination.”
Critics said the bill would jeopardize a number of initiatives, including programs intended to alleviate health disparities that negatively affect racial minorities and women in Arkansas. They also said it would threaten state programs that recognize disabled veterans as a minority group in the state.
“This is about lives,” Democratic state Rep. Jamie Scott said. “This is not about us just playing games. This is really going to impact lives.”
The bill also drew criticism from several Republicans.
“I don’t know how long affirmative action has been in place, but I don’t know that we’ve corrected all of the things that we’ve done wrong,” said Republican state Rep. Jon Eubanks, who voted against the bill. “I know when people have equal opportunities, they draw closer together because you start having the same types of jobs, your kids are doing the same sort of thing, and that draws us closer together.”