The bill to end affirmative action programs in state and local governments in Arkansas was tabled in a House committee Monday.
Senate Bill 71, which cleared the Senate by one vote last week, would bar state and local governments from giving preferential treatment based on race or sex when it comes to employment, education or procurement.
Under the bill state agencies would be given two years to implement the new policy if it were to pass. Affirmative action was a practice instituted across the nation after the Civil Rights movement to give people from disadvantaged groups a chance to enter white and male-dominated spaces, professions and universities.
Rep. Dwight Tosh, chairman of the House Committee on State Agencies, originally proposed to place SB71 on a deferred list that would allow further discussion at a future date. But instead Rep. Marcus Richmond, R-Harvey, made a motion to table the legislation with the committee voting to approve the motion on a voice vote.
Richmond's motion means the bill is less likely to come up again than if had just been deferred. Legislation on the deferred bills list could come up again at the sponsor's request. A tabled bill cannot be brought up again for consideration unless a majority of committee members present vote to do so.
"I just think, you know, people really need to have some additional time," Richmond said of his motion to table the legislation."I wanted the committee to be in control of the bill."
While Richmond said he was open to ending affirmative action in Arkansas, he would prefer to have a working group study the issue when the Legislature is out of session.
"I think something like an interim study would be a better way to approach it [with] everyone coming in having the discussion," Richmond said. "I'd rather have the discussion and have buy-in from all parties that may be affected."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, said he was surprised to see the committee table his bill, saying on the morning of the meeting he spoke with Tosh and told him he wanted the bill to be deferred for further discussion.
[It] seems odd to have a majority Republican committee unwilling to debate or even discuss moving [Arkansas] closer to our constitutional principles," Sullivan said in a statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Richmond said the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, as a member of the House Committee on State Agencies could offer a motion to take up the bill again, which would take a majority vote from those present.
Some lawmakers were concerned whether the bill would hurt museums that commemorate Black history, such as the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock. In a statement, Sullivan highlighted a comment from Attorney General Tim Griffin that said the bill would not lead to any museums shutting down.
Sullivan's bill has been hotly debated among lawmakers during the legislative session, with the senator contending his bill would be an end to a system that has failed to end discrimination.
Now the bill likely won't be taken up for consideration unless lawmakers who voted to table the bill change their minds.
When asked last week whether she would support Sullivan's bill to end affirmative action, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "we'll see what the final product looks like" after it passes the House.