Arkansas governor says state needs hate crime law


In this April 10, 2019 file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas should have harsher penalties for those who commit crimes against others because of their race, ethnicity or religion, the governor said Tuesday, following two mass shootings including one in Texas being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he wants to end Arkansas’ distinction as one of only a handful of states without a hate crimes law. Hutchinson called for the legislation days after 22 people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso. El Paso’s police chief has said investigators believe the suspected gunman posted an anti-immigrant screed online shortly before the attack.

“I want Arkansas to state loudly and clearly that we’re not going to tolerate hate in the name of religion or the name of race or ethnicity, and I want to see legislation passed in Arkansas that would enhance penalties for targeting because of race, ethnicity or religion,” the Republican told the Arkansas Sheriffs Association at a meeting in Rogers.

Though he didn’t specifically mention them in his remarks, Hutchinson later told reporters he would also support the introduction of enhanced penalties for those guilty of targeting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“People should not be targeted for who they are,” Hutchinson said. “That constitutes a crime of hate and they should not be targeted for it, and there should be enhanced penalties for it.”

Hutchinson said he wants to build broad support for the measure before bringing it before the Legislature, which will meet next year for a session focused primarily on the state budget. Any non-budget bills such as hate crimes legislation would need at least two-thirds support in the House and Senate to even be considered.

The Anti-Defamation League lists Arkansas as one of five states, along with Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming, without hate crimes protections. Indiana’s governor signed a hate crimes measure into law in April, but the group has said that doesn’t meet its standards for a hate crimes law.

“We believe the governor’s comments today to be a wonderful step in the right direction and we commit ourselves to assisting the governor and Legislature in developing meaningful hate crimes legislation and protections for Arkansas,” Aaron Ahlquist, ADL’s regional director for its south central region, said.

Hutchinson said he had been approached by members of the Jewish community worried about the threat of violence even before the latest mass shootings.

A hate crimes measure failed before a House panel in 2017. The sponsor of that proposal said he is encouraged by Hutchinson’s remarks.

“I think it’s well past time to get it done,” Democratic Sen. Greg Leding said.

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