LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ Republican governor, attorney general and nearly two dozen lawmakers unveiled legislation Wednesday imposing harsher penalties for committing crimes against someone because of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, an effort that would end the state’s distinction as one of three without a hate crimes law.
The bill would impose up to 20% additional jail times or fines for targeting someone because of those factors and others, including sex, religion, gender identity, disability or military service.
“We need to say clearly that Arkansas will not tolerate violence against anyone because of their race, their religion or who they are,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming are currently the only states without a hate crimes law. Georgia in June became the latest state to enact a hate crimes measure. Hutchinson last year said he supported the enhanced penalties following a mass shooting at a Texas Walmart that is being prosecuted as a hate crime.
Past hate crimes proposals have faltered in Arkansas because of opposition to the inclusion of sexual orientation in the measure.
The latest proposal has the backing of lawmakers from both parties in the majority-Republican Legislature. Hutchinson was flanked by signs displaying logos of companies backing the hate crime legislation, and business leaders said it was needed to recruit more to the state.
“Arkansas needs to be open for business and growth and that includes protecting the individuals who need it the most,” said Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce.