State Sen. Jim Hendren’s hate crimes bill was not passed in committee on Wednesday.
Hendren presented Senate Bill 3, which creates enhancements for offenders who target individuals based on protected attributes, to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, April 7. The bill has languished without being reviewed before the committee since it was read by the Arkansas Senate on January 11.
According to Hendren, Senate Bill 3 was designed to “accomplish the goal of making Arkansas not stand out as one of the three states that does not have hate crimes protections.” The bill, he said, mirrored legislation passed in two other Republican states, Utah and Georgia.
Hendren insisted that the bill did not create a new crime but creates enhancements for criminal acts. “Just as Senate Bill 622, nobody is subject to anything under this piece of legislation unless they’re found guilty of violating current criminal code,” he said.
“The other thing that it does, where there’s a lot of the consternation with members of the committee, on page 1, it clearly defines traditional victims of hate crimes.”
Hendren yielded the floor to state Sen. Joyce Elliott, who was a co-sponsor on the bill. In her testimony, Elliott related her experiences of shepherding a hate crimes bill as a freshman legislator in the early 2000s. After getting the bill through committees, Elliott said that she was told that her bill would pass if she removed provisions that touched on sexual orientation, which she declined to do. “That’s why we don’t have a hate crimes bill today. It’s not because I was being stubborn. It’s because I believe we all matter equally,” she said.
Sen. Bob Ballinger raised issues Elliott, asking if hate crimes would apply to specific circumstances, such as attacks on individuals wearing Make America Great Again hats. He asked Elliott if an individual who stormed the Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington D.C. would be guilty of a hate crime or if the individual who shot Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise would be guilty of a hate crime due to targeting him based on politics.
Elliott told Ballinger that hate crimes are based on patterns and history.
She warned that a vague bill does not address distinctions between people. Elliott references the Black Lives Matter movement, stating that there has been difficulty in seeing distinctions without negativity.
“If you don’t name what you’re taking about, you just don’t know…how are you going to guide yourself? And the person who wants to be seen and not erased has no idea that you really see that person for his or her distinction and why they are being labeled and targeted,” she said.
“Folks who have lived the lives of Black person in our country have seen the disproportionate negative consequences of being the Black person in the country. We don’t recognize that. We don’t ever know how to address that.”
The committee did not vote to pass the bill, and Sen. Trent Garner made a “Do Not Pass” motion. Before the motion went to a vote, Committee Chair Sen. Alan Clark weighed in on the bill, noting that he would not support the bill but that he noted that neither side on the issue was listening to each other.
“I won’t vote for a bill that creates new classes in Arkansas law. I just won’t. I’ve spelled out my reasons many times. The way that we continue to divide ourselves…the thing that Martin Luther King Jr. said that he wanted his kids to be valued for their character – I go back to that so many times. It’s not that I don’t see skin color or that you don’t see skin color,” Clark said.
Clark said that it was “bothersome” to him when Sen. Linda Chesterfield called Senate Bill 622 a “placebo” for the hate crime issue. “While we are talking past each other, we’ve been listening, and I hope ya’ll will listen, too,” Clark said.
Hendren also spoke before the voting, decrying the Do Not Pass motion. “I will speak on the motion that we have before the floor, before the committee, the “Do Not Pass” motion. I’ve been down here for six years in the House, 10 years in the Senate, and I’ve seen that done one time. It is the most hateful, petty thing that you can do to your colleagues. You have a bill before you with 19 of your colleagues as co-sponsor with bipartisan support with tremendous support from people that we represent. I know that you can do what you want to do, but I just want you to think about the message that something that petty will be,” Hendren said.
Once Hendren finished, Ballinger addressed Hendren directly, lambasting him for his actions in regards to Senate Bill 3.
“This whole process has been really petty. Really embarrassingly petty and very self-serving. From the very beginning, your colleagues – back when you were a part of our caucus – sat down and talked to you about drafting something that could be, frankly, more inclusive. Instead of working with them, you scheduled a press conference. You include language in here that specifically provides exemptions from hate crimes for…honestly, I can’t imagine anybody voting for this that exempts out child molesters and rapists. I get why you get it, but the bill itself is a terrible bill. It’s a very bad bill, right? And that was brought to your attention. Those conservations were had. There were a lot of other things that were brought to your attention.
“That wasn’t your plan, Sen. Hendren. Your plan was to make the news. Your plan was to become somebody real important. Your plan was to have this new idea of everybody coming together behind the man Jim Hendren. No matter what it did to your colleagues, no matter what it did to your colleagues, that was the direction you were doing,” he said.
The motion went to a vote with Hendren calling for a roll call. With the roll call, the motion failed.