Capitol

Arkansas Speaker of the House and State Rep. Matthew Shepherd presented Senate Bill (SB) 622 to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, securing the committee’s approval of Shepherd’s and State Sen. Jimmy Hickey’s slimmed-down hate crimes legislation that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has pushed the legislature to pass in recent months.

As previously reported in the Log Cabin, SB622 is notable in that it falls short of the governor’s original expectations of hate crimes legislation and decidedly fails to mention the term “hate crime.” Additionally, SB622 doesn’t include specifically listed protected classes of people to satisfy lawmakers who were opposed to the idea of listing some protected classes of people, but not others.

SB622 does, however, require defendants found guilty of targeting victims for violent crimes due to their membership or association with specific groups to serve at least 80 percent of their sentence before being allowed to be considered for parole. And the bill sets a process in place to build a registry of defendants found guilty of targeting victims due to their association with a group of people – a key piece of the original hate crimes legislation the governor wanted to pass.

Many of the same critiques of SB622 that were discussed ahead of Wednesday’s senate vote were litigated again in Thursday’s House committee meeting. Proponents of the bill, including Shepherd, cited the bill’s effectiveness at protecting large swaths of at-risk Arkansans, while opponents, namely Democrats, pushed back against the lack of specifically listed protected classes of people.

The real drama on Thursday came during the committee’s final vote to approve SB622. With the legislation needing a simple voice vote to pass the committee, State Rep. and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Carol Dalby quickly adjourned the meeting after declaring that more committee members voted in favor of SB622 than those who voted against.

While multiple members called for a roll-call vote in the moments following the voice vote, Dalby’s quick adjournment ensured that her ruling that the bill passed the voice vote stood.

In the hours following the committee meeting, the Democratic Party of Arkansas tweeted a statement about Thursday’s vote and criticized Dalby’s move.

“Arkansas is breaking legislative rules to silence minority voices as part of a plan to pass a sham hate crimes bill,” the party tweeted. “It’s a calculated and disturbing move by the [Arkansas GOP] and [the governor].”

Neither Dalby or the Arkansas GOP have issued a statement about Thursday’s vote. SB622 now heads to the house floor for a full vote, likely to take place early next week.

Staff Writer Kolton Rutherford can be reached at krutherford@thecabin.net.

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