Hate crimes bill voted down in Senate committee as lawmakers fire insults at one another

by George Jared ([email protected]) 2,830 views 

The Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday (April 7) voted down SB 3, the original hate crimes bill that was filed at the beginning of the session earlier this year.

The bill never received a second in order to vote it out of committee. After a motion to pass it out failed, Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, made a rarely used “do not pass” motion to kill the bill in committee – effectively halting any future votes on the measure. Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Oark, seconded Garner’s motion, which failed on a roll call vote.

Arkansas is one of three states without a hate crimes law.

SB 3 sponsor Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, blasted his colleagues for the “do not pass” motion on the bill, noting that in his 16 years in the legislature it had happened only one other time. He said it was an insult to the 20 legislators who supported the bill.

“It’s a hateful, petty thing. … I want you to think about the message something that petty would send,” he said just prior to the vote.

Ballinger fired back, saying that several Republican members approached Hendren before the bill was filed in an attempt to find compromise language.

“It’s a terrible bill. It’s a bad bill. … Sen. Hendren, your plan was to make the news,” Ballinger said.

Hendren said the bill was crafted from hate crimes bills that were passed in Utah and Georgia. He noted that both were passed by Republicans in those states. Each year, the FBI estimates there are about 8,500 hate crimes committed in the U.S.

The end remarks capped nearly two hours of back-and-forth arguments that at times devolved into a Christian bible tutorial.

Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, opened by telling the committee she has been working to get a hate crimes bill passed in Arkansas for 20 years. A hate crimes bill did pass the Senate in 2001, but was derailed in the state House when clergy members asked that sexual orientation be removed from the bill to which Elliott refused.

The bill would have created enhanced sentences for criminals that committed crimes against victims based on their color, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. Several committee members asked Hendren and Elliot about other types of hate crimes that might not be covered under the bill. Members said there have been attacks on people wearing “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hats in support of former President Donald Trump.

Hendren said he had no issue with broadening the scope of the bill to include political orientation or other criteria. Elliott said the bill was intended to protect groups that had a history or a pattern of being attacked.

“These are real numbers and real people we are talking about. … Why can’t we give comfort to those who are victimized?” she said.

Committee Chairman Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, praised Elliott and other minority members of the legislature, but stopped short of supporting the bill.

“I won’t vote for a bill that creates new classes in the law. I won’t,” he said.

Clark later took offense to testimony from Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock. She said SB 622, an alternative hate crimes bill that Clark sponsors, fell short of a true hate crimes measure and she referred to it as “placebo” legislation.

Pastor Dr. Mark Deymaz implored the committee to pass SB 3. During a two-minute speech, Deymaz told members that Arkansas needs “meaningful, and robust” hate crimes legislation passed and SB 3 was the bill that could accomplish that goal. He said legislators will “own this failure” if nothing meaningful is passed, and that we are living in a shifting cultural moment. Many in the committee professed to be Christians, and Deymaz said one of the major challenges faced by the church on a national scale is the perception that Christianity is becoming a religion associated with hate.

Several members blasted Deymaz, noting that he didn’t speak for all faith-based groups in the state.

“I think it’s the height of arrogance,” Garner said at the conclusion of Deymaz’s comments.

SB 622 will be debated in the Arkansas State Senate on Wednesday afternoon. Talk Business & Politics will update this story later today.