Governor Asa Hutchinson has expressed to the members of the Arkansas General Assembly that he would like to pass a Hate Crimes Bill. Arkansas is one of a few states left without a hate crime law (Wyoming, South Carolina) that enhances criminal penalties for targeting a victim because of that person’s attributes or situation. This bill is very similar to recently passed legislation in Utah and Georgia. A Special Session to pass this bill is the goal. However, if a Special Session is not called this year, the Governor has expressed that he wants to address this issue in the regular legislative session which begins in January.
This legislation would enhance penalties for existing offenses by no more than 20 percent, only after law enforcement authorities proved that the perpetrator chose the victim because of the victim’s race, national origin, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Some states have Hate Crime laws that include police officers and first responders. Arkansas already has a law on the books that enhances penalties for crimes against those groups. This bill would also make it a Class C felony to falsely accuse someone of a hate crime.
At the time of this writing, Senator Jim Hendren, Representative Nicole Clowney, and Representative Dan Douglas are the only Northwest Arkansas legislators that are currently listed as sponsors of the bill. However, it is anticipated that more sponsors will be added. Governor Hutchinson has continued to work with legislators to gather support for the bill.
The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce continues to work closely with the Governor, the Northwest Arkansas Council, the Arkansas State Chamber, and Senator Hendren to enlist support for this bipartisan measure from the business community in Northwest Arkansas.
Northwest Arkansas Leadership Pledge Promotes Diversity and Inclusion
The Northwest Arkansas Council recently announced at their Annual Meeting that they have adopted a Leadership Pledge that has been endorsed by the members of the Council. The goal of this pledge is to promote diversity and inclusion, vital to the well-being and success of the employees, communities, and businesses in the region. The Northwest Arkansas Chambers of Commerce have signed this pledge, and are committed to the following principles which the pledge is guided:
Education and Training
Supporting educational initiatives designed to provide a deeper understanding of the historical underpinnings of systemic racism and help identify and eliminate unconscious bias. We will continue to make our workplaces safe environments for such education by fostering open, frank and respectful discussions about these complex issues.
Community and Workplace
Working to ensure that our workplace environments are free of discrimination and that we advance the hiring, development, retention and promotion of diverse talent and invest in initiatives designed to reduce the effects of prejudices in our communities at the local, regional and national level.
Supporting administrative and legislative measures that advance equality and justice and further the acceptance and advancement of all individuals, regardless of personal demographics including race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
Engaging thoughtfully on the issues by listening to and learning from each other, promoting transparency by sharing practices that have worked and failed, and helping keep each other accountable by encouraging the continued enhancement and evolution of policies and strategies to help overcome challenges and improve well-being for all.
Arkansas has an unflattering history in race relations. It is a history that cannot be ignored and should be remembered to teach us that there is a brighter future and an opportunity ahead for all that choose to make Arkansas home.
Northwest Arkansas is blessed to have had some of the world’s most successful and visionary entrepreneurs start businesses that transformed their respective industries. Today, the region is fortunate to have some of the most accomplished Fortune 500 Companies doing business globally right here in our backyard. As these companies and countless other businesses grow, the region benefits. We also face new challenges to attract world-class talent for our world-class businesses.
Our cities are thriving economically and the population becoming more diverse every day. Local leadership has recognized these rapid demographic changes and are adapting and changing the way we do business to achieve our vision of being the center for world-class business, welcoming communities, and opportunities for all.
This leadership and change have been instrumental for the advancement of our public and private services accommodating the needs of new residents. By making important and necessary changes in our way of life from education and health care to housing and infrastructure, and even our arts and culture, we are becoming a world-class destination.
Now that our region is being highlighted nationally not only as one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country but also as one of the best and most affordable places, the Chamber is playing an even greater role helping our business leaders hire and retain their global talent with its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. As we have seen in national news, there are parts of our country experiencing major unrest related to racial tensions. Our communities are not immune to these demonstrations for equal treatment and fairness for all, our State along with only two others (South Carolina and Wyoming) are the only ones in our nation missing statutes criminalizing various types of bias-motivated violence or intimidation.
Our Chamber along with many business leaders in our Region are in support of this much-needed piece of legislation for the wellbeing of our citizens, our businesses, our industry, our neighbors, and our friends.
We are in support of equal opportunity and treatment, regardless of our differences. We hope (as our most successful entrepreneurs in our region have inspired us to do) to reach for new heights. They have taught us that with effort, discipline and compassion your dreams can become a reality. We hope that our communities will support the proposed Hate Crime Bill and help our region become an even greater place to live and work with equal opportunity, liberty and prosperity for ALL.