House Minority Leader Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, said the abrupt ending to the Thursday (April 8) judiciary committee that debated a hate crimes bill has raised more questions than answers.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, called the vote on SB 622 for supporters of the bill and then quickly adjourned the committee before a roll call vote could take place. SB 622 is a class protection bill that enhances time served for certain violent crimes and is touted by some as an alternative to hate crimes legislation.
There was debate as to whether the bill had the 11 votes needed to pass the panel. McCullough said with the COVID-19 plexiglass protocols in committee rooms, it is hard to tell how votes are being cast in this legislature.
“Would I like for there to have been a roll call? Sure. Because that’s what the people that I’m hearing from want. They want things to be transparent and they want to know what happened,” McCullough said. “I just know the people that I’m hearing from would like to have known what the vote was for sure.”
McCullough was a guest on this week’s TV edition of Talk Business & Politics. Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, was requested to appear on the program, but said through a spokesperson that his schedule did not allow for it this week.
McCullough said she has not spoken to Dalby since the committee meeting and is under the impression that Republicans may challenge the vote’s authenticity on the House floor on Monday. McCullough hasn’t polled Democrats to see if they would join in that fight.
“I can just say that I’m still thinking about what happened and looking at things, looking at rules and all of that. I’m not leading a charge by any means,” she said.
When asked if her preference is that the bill be re-referred to the House Judiciary Committee for a more transparent vote, McCullough said it may not matter due to the small number of Democrats in the House – just 22 members.
“You know, I don’t know that my preference matters a lot… With 22 of us, we can’t dictate a lot. And as a matter of fact, maybe it’s better to get out of the way and let others dictate and see what happens.”
McCullough’s objections to SB 622 are in lockstep with other Democrats’ opposition to the bill. They say it isn’t written strongly enough to protect marginalized and targeted groups from hate crimes.
“I think I’ve spoken pretty clearly about my issues with it. We had a good hate crimes bill. I think one that checked the box appropriately.”
“I’ll say it again: if you’re not a minority, I think it might be hard or difficult to understand what this particular bill looks like and feels like. It feels like just an attempt to check a box and not really a true attempt to make sure that we realize these vulnerable groups that are targeted,” said McCullough, the only openly gay member of the Arkansas General Assembly. “And it’s not even the hate crimes that you have to say hate crimes to me, it’s just, there are certain groups that historically have been targeted and that’s who we should be protecting with this. And I think this particular bill just opens it up to everything. I think it’s very vague. I think it will be hard for prosecutors to even use. And then also, a lot’s been talked about about the prospect of it maybe not being constitutional.”
You can watch Rep. McCullough’s full interview in the video below.