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Arkansas State Capitol. Photo: The Hill.com
Arkansas State Capitol. Photo: The Hill.com

Arkansas has a potential anti-hate crime bill in the works

It is one of three states in the U.S. to still not have a law against hate crime. 

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The Arkansas state legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson have introduced a draft of what may become the state’s first law banning hate crimes. 

The Associated Press reports that the proposed bill is seeking to increase penalties for people convicted of perpetrating crimes against someone based on the victim’s sex, religion, gender identity, disability or military service, among other factors. 

Penalties would include a 20% increase in jail time as well as additional fines. 

Senator Joyce Elliot has been working on the legislation since her first term in the state House in 2001. 

“It has taken the maximum amount of state House and Senate terms I’m allowed — nearly 20 years — for Arkansas to be ready for Hate Crimes Legislation. I won’t let this bipartisan moment pass,” she said. 

Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming are the only three remaining US states that do not have laws against hate crimes and do not require collection of data on them.

Previous efforts to introduce anti-hate crime legislation have failed because of clergy opposition regarding the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected factor. 

“We need to say clearly that Arkansas will not tolerate violence against anyone because of their race, their religion or who they are," Governor Hutchinson said at a news conference on Wednesday.

He also emphasized that we have reached a point in our history where people that target individuals based solely off their identity must be held to a higher degree of accountability. 

Lawmakers announced the proposal in late June.State Rep. Fred Love, the Democratic Minority Leader in the House, said the death of George Floyd and subsequent national protests against police brutality are what inspired its introduction. 

“We as a society are ready to move forward to a better future,” he said in a statement

During the news conference, lawmakers didn’t ignore the fact that they may be facing a long battle ahead to get the bill passed. 

“Let’s not kid ourselves, we know that this has been tried many times before. This will be a difficult effort, but I’m not sure there’s many more important challenges that we’ve taken on in Arkansas than what we need to do to pass hate crimes legislation,” said state Senator Jim Hendren. 

Despite the difficulties, lawmakers are ready to fight for this bill to finally pass. 

“No Arkansan should live in fear of being targeted for a crime because of who they are, what they look like, what they believe, or who they love,” said state rep Nicole Clowney, who helped write the draft. “It is time for Arkansas law to send the clear and unmistakable message that hate has no home in our state.” 
 

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