Proposed Hate Crime Bill Could Face Challenges

January 8, 2007 - Posted at 9:47 p.m. CST

JONESBORO-A new bill filed in the State Senate hopes to put hate crimes in the Arkansas law books.

But this isn't the first time this sort of legislation has been presented.

Two similar statutes have both been shot down by the state in past years, but the opposition often comes down to a practicality.

Prosecuting Attorney Brend Davis says, "what this punishes is the thought behind the act."

State Senate Bill 264 is subtitled to create the offense of hate crime and to establish penalties for such crimes.

"Theoretically it would allow for some increased punishment if the crime was motivated by a particular bias against a group," said Davis.

But this isn't the first time such a bill has been before legislators.

"I think part of the resistance isn't a reluctance to prosecute the acts of this nature, but the acts themselves are already criminal," said Davis.

And for that reason, additional Legislation might only make it harder to achieve the overall goal.

"The number of cases in which you could actually use hate crime legislation and it was clearly motivated by that bias, versus just some question that it might have been motivated is pretty limited," said Davis.

In the Bill filed by Senator Hank Wilkins IV of Pine Bluff, a person committing a hate crime would be defined as someone who interferes with or retaliates against anyone exercising their first ammendment rights.

The Bill also says victim selection based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ancestory would constitute a hate crime.

"Usually you are faced with much more subtle situations where there are inferences or suggestions and maybe even a gut feeling even, but not the hardcore evidence to prove the crime," said Davis.

And it could be that hardcore evidence that has kept Arkansas one of the few states to not have any kind of hate crime legislation.

"The opposition or the lack of support is because....from a practical standpoint it may not be that beneficial," said Davis.

In the new bill, hate crime offenses would be stepped up from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the severity of the crime.

Senator Wilkins says he hopes legislators will take a closer look at the measure and understand, quote , "the importance of reinforcing the dignity and sacred worth of every individual."

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