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Arkansas’ proposed hate-crime law, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | November 19, 2020 at 11:40 a.m.
Rep. Jeff Wardlaw (left), R-Hermitage; Rep. Fred Love (center), D-Little Rock; and Dushun Scarbrough, executive director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, listen Wednesday to Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, during a Capitol news conference to reveal a draft of a proposed hate-crime law going before lawmakers at the next legislative session. More photos at arkansasonline.com/820leg/ (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

A state senator on Monday filed legislation that would allow enhancement of criminal sentences for anyone convicted of a hate crime.

Currently, Arkansas is one of three states in the country without a hate-crime law. (The other two are Wyoming and South Carolina).

What identities would the law cover? Under the bill submitted by Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, a sentence enhancement would be allowed if someone committed a crime because of a victim’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability or service in the U.S. armed forces.

The sentence enhancements allowed under the bill, SB 3, would be:

• An additional term of imprisonment equal to 20% of the original term.

• An additional fine equal to 20% of any assessed fine.

• An additional term of probation, suspended sentence or suspended imposition of sentence equal to 20% of the person’s probation, suspended sentence and suspended imposition of sentence.

No matter how many attributes the victim has, the sentence enhancement cannot exceed 20% under SB 3.

The bill would require the attorney general to establish and maintain a central repository for the collection, analysis and dissemination of hate-crime data.

Who supports the bill? So far, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, both Republicans, have voiced support.

In addition to Hendren, three Republican legislators are listed as cosponsors of the bill: Rep. Joe Jett, R-Success, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, and Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville.

Broadly, state Democrats have signaled a desire to pass a hate-crime bill and more than a dozen cosponsored the bill.

Who doesn’t support the bill? In August, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, a Republican, said through a spokesperson he did not endorse Hendren's bill as written and doesn’t want such legislation rushed.

This is far from the first hate-crimes bill proposed in the state. Similar legislation has failed to clear the Republican-dominated General Assembly over the past few decades, in part because of protections for LGBTQ people.

So … will it pass? We can’t know that yet, but Hendren said “it is going to be an uphill battle” for the legislation.

Incoming House majority leader, Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, said in August other Republicans were also drafting alternatives toward addressing hate crimes.

He said the alternatives are unlikely to be based on removing protections for LGBTQ people but will rather attempt to build support based on their sponsors.

Read about the bill’s filing on Monday here and read more from when the legislation was first publicized in August.

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