Speaker of the House: Hate crime legislation remains in limbo

by George Jared ([email protected]) 643 views 

Arkansas Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Arkansas’ version of a Stand Your Ground bill into law this week, but when he did so he encouraged the Arkansas Legislature to pass a hate crimes bill. Arkansas Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd said Thursday (March 4) there has been no real change since hate crimes legislation was introduced earlier in the session.

SB 3, sponsored by State Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, and HB 1020, sponsored by State Rep. Fred Love, D-Mabelvale, were both filed the day the session began on Jan. 11. The bills are still before the Judiciary committees for both the Senate and House.

Shepherd said not a lot has changed in the last several weeks, and he doesn’t know if either bill or both bills will survive committee votes. When asked if there is anything that could move the needle on the legislation one way or another, the Speaker said he wasn’t sure.

“It’s difficult to say … I don’t know if there is one thing or another,” he said. “I don’t think anything has changed.”

Talks have been ongoing behind the scenes, he said. HB 1020 would allow for enhanced sentences for criminals who commit crimes against a person or persons based on their ethnicity, race, sex, ancestry, disability or other criteria. .

Persons convicted of a hate crime would be subject to 20% increases in their term of imprisonment, fines, or probation. The enhancement would not exceed 20% if the crime were based on multiple attributes.

The bill also makes it a Class C felony to aid or encourage a frivolous, groundless or malicious prosecution if the bill becomes law. It also requires the attorney general to establish a repository to collect and analyze hate crimes data.

Arkansas is one of three states that doesn’t have a hate crimes law.

Several states, including Texas and Mississippi, have started to lift pandemic emergency measures which include mandated masking in public. Hutchinson has extended an emergency order and a mask mandate for Arkansas through March 31.

It’s uncertain if he will attempt to extend the order beyond that date. When asked if the COVID-19 safety protocols will still be enforced if the mask mandate is lifted, Shepherd was non-committal. He said he wasn’t sure what the outcome will be if the protocols are lifted by the governor.

The Speaker wasn’t sure what the ramifications would be if a bill that would give the governor the authority to reject executive orders issued by the president of the United States is passed. Shepherd hadn’t read SB 469 which was filed Thursday by State Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado.

“How does an executive order at the federal level impact state government? I don’t know the impact,” he said.

The Legislature is slated to adjourn by April 9. Despite hundreds of bills being filed in both the House and Senate, the number of bills filed is down this session, Shepherd said.

Next week, presentations for constitutional amendments will be heard, he said. At this point, he wasn’t sure if the session would have to be extended or not.

You can view Speaker Shepherd’s comments from his press conference in the video below.