Arkansas is one of three states in the nation without a hate crimes law, along with South Carolina and Wyoming. Coming into this legislative session, Governor Hutchinson called the passage of a hate crimes bill a priority and a small bipartisan group of my Senate colleagues introduced SB3 in November. The bill has sat in the Senate Judiciary Committee since January with no hopes of approval from the partisan super majority.
SB622 was filed in the Senate on April 1 and was approved 22-7, a party line vote, on Wednesday, April 7. This bill is scaled back and vague, and critics from across the country have justly said it hardly fits the description of a hate crimes bill.
But rather than share critical opinions from civic groups or dissect the claims of its proponents, let’s examine the two bills on their face.
The Definition of a Hate Crime
SB3: “Enhanced penalties for offenses committed due to victim’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability, or service in United States Armed Forces.”
This bill uses the definition of a hate crime that is used by the FBI. The FBI has the authority to investigate hate crimes in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender.
SB622: The new version uses an alternative definition, referring to a hate crime as one when the accused “purposely selected the victim.” It does not specifically identify a defendant’s belief or expression was hostile or contrary to the victim being a member of a recognizable and identifiable group or class who share mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics.
SB3: The original bill adds an additional 20% to any fine, term of imprisonment, or term of probation. This bill, in contrast to SB622, asks the jury upfront to consider a sentence enhancement before the defendant gets their punishment.
SB622: The new bill uses the term “Delayed Release” to mean a person who receives a sentence of imprisonment is not eligible for parole unless the person as served at least 80% of their sentence. SB622 only applies to serious felonies while SB3 applies to misdemeanors as well.
The Data Collection
SB3: The original bill requires more detailed recording and reporting on hate crime including summaries of the hate crime, demographic data on perpetrators and victims, and the outcome of each charge. All information will be then reported to the AG who will publish an annual report of the data to be delivered to the Governor, legislature, FBI, and United States Attorneys.
SB622: The new bill does not require specific data to be collected, but it does require the Arkansas Crime Information Center to maintain a registry of all sentencing order that include delayed release. It requires the data to be disseminated to relevant agencies and the Attorney General but gives no timeline or requirement for the data to be published.
Some more key concerns…
Where the new bill has no teeth: SB622 only applies to felonies while SB3 applies to felonies and misdemeanors. The majority of hate crimes are misdemeanors like vandalism and simple assault. SB622 would not cover those incidents and would not allow for the increased penalties that such crimes likely warrant.
What’s left out: SB3 included the armed forces as a protected class as a result of an incident that happened in Little Rock where a soldier was attacked because of his service. If a service member is attacked because he or she is in the military, SB622 would not cover it.
Why it’s good for everyone: SB3 protects everyone. SB622 does not. A true hate crimes bill protects even those who are not in protected classes. For example, if a person was attacked because they were thought to be a member of a protected class, the attacker could be tried for a hate crime because of the intent.
What exactly do we stand to lose from protecting all Arkansans from hate crimes? What exactly do we stand to gain from passing a half-hearted bill that doesn’t? The world’s watching.