‘Class protection bill’ approved in the Senate, faces House vote

by George Jared ([email protected]) 427 views 

The Arkansas State Capitol on Inaugural Day.

A bill that hasn’t been called a hate crimes bill, but has been lauded by some lawmakers as its equivalent passed the Arkansas Senate on Wednesday (April 7). SB 622 will now head to the House for consideration.

It passed on a 22-7 vote, with five senators voting present. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr., R-Texarkana, is described as a “class protection bill.” The bill will create an “aggravating circumstance” provision that will require a criminal defendant to serve at least 80% of his or her sentence if certain motivations led to the crime.

Those criteria include if the defendant purposefully selected the victim because the victim was a member of or was associated with a recognizable and identifiable group or class who share mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics, per the bill. It must be proven that the crime was committed due to these characteristics, Hickey said.

“It provides for the delayed release of certain violent individuals,” he added.

The first hate crimes bill filed during the session, SB 3, was voted down in committee earlier in the day after emotional testimony on both sides. Multiple Republican lawmakers on that committee referred to SB622 as a suitable replacement bill even though it doesn’t allow for enhanced penalties for hate hate crimes and doesn’t mention hate crimes in the language of the law.

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, blasted her colleagues prior to the vote. She said earlier in the day that SB 622 is nothing more than a “placebo” and doesn’t address the issues that SB 3 would have corrected. She noted that she and Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, fought for a hate crimes bill for years. Arkansas remains one of three states without a hate crimes law on the books.

“You are going to vote for it because it makes you feel good … the dose of medicine is insufficient,” she said.

Elliott said she has talked with many members about hate crimes legislation through the years, and is tired of members telling her they know what it’s like to be a female minority living in a southern state. She attacked SB 622, saying it will have minimal impact on groups that have historically been the targets of hate crimes. The fact that hate crimes appears nowhere in the bill speaks for itself, she added.

“If there’s a problem … you name it. You don’t have to obscure it. … I want you to see us. I want you to hear us,” she said moments before the vote.