LITTLE ROCK — Black lawmakers held off Tuesday on saying whether they’ll support an effort to end Arkansas’ practice of honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the same day, asking for more details on how such a move would be carried out.
The Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus tabled a vote on ending the dual holiday this year, a proposal that Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson is considering putting on the agenda for a special session. Members of the caucus said they want to see the proposed legislation in writing before taking a stance.
"I think it goes without saying we would support a separate holiday, but we have learned as legislators over the years not to be in favor of anything we haven’t seen," Democratic Sen. Linda Chesterfield, who chairs the caucus, said after the vote.
Arkansas is one of three states — along with Alabama and Mississippi — to jointly celebrate the black civil rights icon and the white Confederate general on the third Monday in January. A proposal to end that practice failed repeatedly before a House committee last year.
In January, Hutchinson said he believed the holiday should be King’s alone and wanted lawmakers to approve the change in 2017, but his office has said he may move more quickly on the issue and is considering putting it on the agenda for a special session on highway funding.
Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said the governor doesn’t have specific legislation for the move and hasn’t decided yet whether to put the proposal in a special session, which is expected after the end of the fiscal session that convenes next month.
Democratic Rep. Fred Love, who sponsored one of the bills to end the joint holiday last year, said Hutchinson had asked him if the caucus would support the move.
"While the spirit of committing to the separation of the days is there, the devil’s in the details," Love said.
Members of the caucus have previously expressed concern about whether the compromise would require a designated day to honor Lee or Southern heritage, a provision that had been included in previous legislation.
Supporters of the move say the combined holiday hurts the state’s image and its efforts to attract businesses.