Arkansas Senate Bars Local Protections For LGBTQ

Arkansas Senate Bars Local Protections For LGBTQ

The Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock.

A controversial law that will bar Arkansas cities from drafting civil rights laws similar to Fayetteville’s Ordinance 119 passed late Monday, Feb. 23.

The Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act — also known as Senate Bill 202 (SB 202) — sponsored by State Rep. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs), passed through Arkansas state senate on Feb. 13 with 68 percent approval and 57 percent approval in the Arkansas House of Representatives. The bill was delivered to Governor Asa Hutchinson on Feb. 17. Concerned about a loss of local control, Hutchinson refused to neither veto nor sign the bill into law, thus allowing the bill to pass after meeting deadline on Monday.

“Senate Bill 202 passed with significant margins in the General Assembly, and I have a high regard for the discussion in the Legislature and respect for the legislative process,” said Hutchinson in an official statement. “As Governor, I recognize the desire to prevent burdensome regulations on businesses across the state. However, I am concerned about the loss of local control. For that reason, I am allowing the bill to become law without my signature.”

The law will prohibit all 500 cities and 75 counties in Arkansas from enacting or enforcing civil rights ordinances that create protected classes that aren’t in the state’s Civil Rights Act, leaving the power to do so at the state and federal level. So, this means Arkansas citizens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or genderqueer will remain without legal recourse for discrimination. Currently, the state’s protected classes are race, religion, national origin, disability, age and gender.

Hester said he sponsored the bill to avoid having different civil rights laws in the cities throughout Arkansas, as they would not make for a good business environment.


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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson refused to neither sign nor veto The Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, thus leaving the bill to reach deadline and become enacted because he was “Concerned about loss of local control.”

While now enacted, the bill won’t go into effect until 90 days after the Legislature formally adjourns, which is set in May, giving the law a start date sometime this summer. The law won’t directly affect cities like Fayetteville that do not have a local civil rights law in place. However, it will cause Eureka Springs, who just passed Ordinance 2223 Feb. 9 — which gives its citizens legal protections under gender identity, expression, orientation and socioeconomic background — to cease enforcement of their ordinance.

Eureka Springs Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry, who will act as civil rights administrator under the ordinance, has said the city has no intention of repealing its ordinance. This could potentially lead to litigation problems once SB 202 goes into effect. Until then, the City of Eureka Springs will be able to enforce the ordinance.

About one year ago, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar law to SB 202 after being lobbied by businesses and groups to avoid signing the law.

Along with SB 202 is The Conscience Protection Act, or House Bill 1228 (HB 1228), which is sponsored by State Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville). The bill, which has since failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would have protected citizens’ business decisions so state actions would not “substantially burden a person’s right to exercise of religion.” This could have potentially meant a religious business owner who fundamentally condemned homosexuality could deny service to a gay person and have the protection by the state to do so.

Despite HB 1228 being proposed to protect religious freedom, 39 religious leaders of various faiths throughout Arkansas collectively condemned the bill in a letter they sent to Arkansas state congress Feb. 21.

“We are deeply concerned that H.B. 1228 would not serve religious liberty or the common good in Arkansas,” said the group in the official statement. “Specifically, we worry that the bill would invite misguided individuals to misuse religion as an excuse for a wide variety of discriminatory actions.”

Those in support of SB 202 said they thought issues such as civil rights should be handled at the state and federal level instead of at the city level.

2-23-12 Candidate Filing

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Arkansas State Senator Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) said he sponsored the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 202 to avoid having different civil rights laws throughout Arkansas.

“When we’re dealing with something as important as civil rights and people’s freedom, that’s something that should only happen at a state or federal level,” said Travis Story, general counsel for Repeal 119. “It all comes down to representation. I have a business in Fayetteville, but I don’t have a vote in Fayetteville. We should allow those things to be debated at the state level where I have representatives.”

Duncan Campbell, president of Fayetteville’s Repeal 119, said he found the bill to be much clearer in language versus Fayetteville’s Ordinance, Chapter 119.

“The law makes perfect sense to me,” Campbell said. “States and the feds are typically the experts in civil rights, cities aren’t — let’s face it. It’s problematic for any city to get away from streets, roads and subdivisions to getting into a territory where they have no experience, no certification, no training or education for. It makes perfect sense to have something uniform across the state.”

Those in opposition criticize the bill as being unfair and creates a negative image for Arkansas.

“I think the bill itself goes against every fair minded bone in my body,” said Anne Shelley, who was the ballot question committee chair for Keep Fayetteville Fair. “I believe it is the wrong type of legislation for our state, especially for our city. I certainly want to look at every possibility to keep Fayetteville fair.”

Kendra Johnson, the Arkansas state director for The Human Rights Campaign — an organization dedicated to LGBTQ equality, issued an official statement calling for Hutchinson to veto SB 202.

“The Governor has the power to tell the nation that Arkansas welcomes all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Johnson said in a press release. “Senate Bill 202 destroys local control and denies municipal governments the ability to pass civil rights protections for people in their cities.”

In light of the bill’s proposal, Brooklynite Scoot Wooledge formed to call upon Arkansas businesses, specifically Wal-Mart, to speak out to Hutchinson to veto the bill. Late Monday night Lorenzo Lopez, spokesperson for Wal-Mart, said the bill “sends the wrong message about Arkansas.”

Donald Collins, a gay brother of Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville), had an op-ed published in the Huffington Post to talk about his disappointment in his brother for voting in favor of SB 202.

“I can also hope that Charlie understands that the decisions he makes and the votes he takes are not just political,” Collins said. “They are personal and they affect people in ways he couldn’t possible imagine because he’s never had to deal with the oppression of a society that treats you differently because of who you are attracted to and who you love.”

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