A measure being presented as an alternative to the previously filed hate crimes legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday (April 5).
SB 622 creates 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. For crimes such as murder, battery, arson or terroristic threatening, the 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.
During the committee debate, Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, wanted one of the sponsors of the bill – Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana – to clarify whether this bill was a hate crimes bill.
“We’re getting conflicting reports,” said Hendren. “Is this going to be considered a hate crimes bill when businesses and industries start looking at Arkansas with whether or not we have one?”
“As far as the terminology of hate crimes, that’s going to be for those individuals or those businesses to decide. I believe that as far as Arkansas businesses, we’ve heard from some and it is satisfactory to them,” Hickey said.
Hickey acknowledged the bill does not include the words ‘hate crime’.
“I don’t want to dance around with you, but again…some people want to hear that it’s hate crimes and others want to hear that it’s not,” he said.
Hickey added that the bill serves its purpose of protecting people.
Hendren proposed an amendment to the bill that would include language identifying specific groups: ancestry, color, current or former service in the U.S. forces, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, homelessness, national origin, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. Following that debate, Hendren motioned to adopt his amendment, but the committee room turned dead silent as no one seconded his motion causing it to fail.
Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, asked for clarification on whether the “aggravating circumstance” can only be applied after a person has been convicted of a serious felony and Hickey confirmed that was correct. The Prosecuting Attorneys Association’s Coordinator, Bob McMahan, also confirmed this stating that after a person is convicted the second phase would be assessing whether “aggravating circumstance” is part of the crime.
Jerry Cox, President of the conservative Christian Arkansas Family Council, spoke against the bill.
“If these hate crime laws actually worked in these other states, you wouldn’t see all of these terrible things going on,” Cox said.
Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Zook spoke in favor of the bill and discussed the challenges businesses face in recruiting talent due to the lack of a hate crime law in Arkansas.
“They have trouble recruiting talent and, in some cases, literally offers are made…people turn down a job because of what they learn about the legal climate in Arkansas, specifically regarding this issue,” Zook said.
During a pen and pad session earlier on Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed his support for SB 622.
“I support it. This is legislatively-driven. Speaker Shepherd and Senate Pro Temp Hickey have worked hard on it,” he said. “They wanted to get a bill passed and they thought this was the best vehicle to do it and I’m very appreciative of how hard they worked on it.”
Hutchinson added, “While the original bill was probably the strongest, this one does move the ball forward, accomplishes a great deal in terms of protecting any group that might be targeted because of who they are.”
The measure now heads to the full Senate for a vote.
Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is the senior political reporter for KATV News and is a contributor to Talk Business & Politics.