Governor Voices Support for Hate Crimes Legislation

Hutchinson urges lawmakers to work together during his State of the State address.

Gov. Hutchinson delivers his 2021 State of the State address
Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivers his State of the State address Jan. 12, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.

While delivering his State of the State address to the 93rd General Assembly yesterday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson brought up the “difficult subject” of hate crimes legislation. Arkansas is one of only three states without such legislation, but some state lawmakers hope to change that. 

Rep. Fred Love, a Democrat from Mabelvale, is the lead sponsor of a bill that would create an enhanced sentence for certain offenses committed against a person due to their attributes. Senator Jim Hendren, a Republican from Gravette, is the co-sponsor in the Senate.

Although the Arkansas Legislative Session only began Monday, the governor acknowledged the proposed bill has already generated discussion. 

“I’ve talked to a broad range of people across Arkansas about hate crimes, and they all expressed a sincere conviction, whether for or against it,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “And the only way we can come together on this issue is for us to listen to each other, and to step into others’ shoes who live in a different world than ours. When we do this, then we can come together and find the best solution.”

The main objection from conservative friends, Gov. Hutchinson said, is that hate crime laws give some people more protection than others. But that’s not so. The legislation applies equally, he said.

“If you are Hispanic and you are targeted, it applies. If you’re Jewish, it applies. If you’re a Caucasian, it applies. Or African American or any other race, it applies equally,” Hutchinson said. “It enhances the penalty for targeting regardless of the race that is targeted.”

The governor has also received letters in support of the legislation. He read some of them aloud and asked lawmakers to listen and make their own judgment on the merits and fairness of the bill. 

In his letter to the governor, Jimmy D. Warren of Conway called this an opportunity to take a stand against actors who “represent the worst of crimes.” 

“This legislation is important not just for economic development, but it demonstrates that Arkansas is no place for racism and discrimination,” Warren wrote.

Rabbi Barry Block of Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock wrote that as a group historically targeted with “horrific hate crimes,” the Jewish community well understands the importance of this type of legislation. 

“Arkansans would be safer if such hateful and heinous criminals faced sentence enhancement on the basis of their animus-motivated crimes,” he wrote. 

Arkansas lawmakers wearing masks
Arkansas lawmakers wore masks during the State of the State as part of new COVID-19 protocols adopted by the 93rd General Assembly. Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

Governor Hutchinson heeded calls to not call a special session of the legislature to address hate crimes. Now that the 2021 Legislative Session is underway, he said it’s time to act.

“Polls show that a clear majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support passage of this kind of legislation. Let’s not be the last to enact it, but let’s lead and do what is important for so many,” Hutchinson said. 

During yesterday’s speech, Gov. Hutchinson also acknowledged the health care emergency facing the state. Current emergency rules are set to expire Feb. 27. Hutchinson urged legislators to continue the emergency rules that have “proven necessary” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These include our telemedicine rules, our educational waivers, our immunity liability for business and health care workers, and other important life-saving measures. If you do not act, these measures will end,” he said.

As part of the pandemic response, the governor is asking lawmakers to pass appropriations to allow federal COVID relief funds to be spent on getting vaccines more quickly and delivering them to more Arkansans.

“We need health department infrastructure to coordinate and administer the coronavirus vaccines,” Hutchinson said. “We need a continued investment in testing. We need stable funding for contact tracing and support for our K-12 education and higher education. All of these investments require major appropriations and actions on your part.”

Hutchinson also asked for support to expand high-speed internet into more rural areas of the state and to raise average teacher salaries by $2,000 over the next two years. 

Asa Hutchinson is in his 7th year as governor and this marks the last time he will deliver his State of the State address to the General Assembly in a Regular Session. Hutchinson is term limited and cannot seek reelection in 2022.

Gov. Hutchinson’s 2021 State of the State address can be seen in entirety here

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.