LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - A bill that would delay the release of certain offenders from prison until they have served at least 80% of their sentence if the offender purposely selects their victim is now law in Arkansas.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed SB622 into law Wednesday.
The Arkansas House held a lengthy debate on the Class Protections Bill Monday afternoon.
According to our ABC-affiliate KATV, Rep. Monte Hodges (D-Blytheville) said he was against this bill.
“I thought we had a decent one in place and then we diluted it a little bit. For some reason we’re afraid to identify certain people, I have seen more transgender, LGBTQ, legislation than I’ve ever seen in my 5 terms,” he said.
The Arkansas House Judiciary Committee on April 8, approved SB622, sending the bill to the full House for an up or down vote on the bill.
The committee approved the bill by voice vote after debate on the issue.
Committee chairman Rep. Carol Dalby (R-Texarkana) called for the yeas and nays on the bill, which, according to the video feed, sounded as if the no’s had prevailed.
Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) immediately rose his hand to get the attention of Dalby, according to the feed.
However, Dalby said the yes vote had prevailed and the meeting was adjourned.
The vote also drew opposition from the Arkansas Democratic Party on social media.
The committee heard from several people Thursday on the issue.
According to content partner Talk Business & Politics, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) told the committee that he believed the bill was expansive and should be judged on its merits. Shepherd, who is an attorney, said he believed the courts would be the final arbiter of the issue.
“It’s a political process… If the court tells us it’s not right, we can address that at that time,” Shepherd said.
Former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck told the committee she believes there are legal concerns on the bill.
“A criminal defendant’s attorney will be able to drive through this with a Mack truck,” Tuck said.
The Arkansas State Senate voted 22-7, with five voting present, Wednesday to approve SB622.
The bill, sponsored by House and Senate leadership, would delay the release of certain offenders until the offender has served at least 80 percent of their sentence if the offender purposely selected their victim.
Under the bill, the crimes listed include murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, battery in the first degree, aggravated assault, terroristic threatening, if a felony offense, terroristic act, arson, unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle and an attempt, solicitation or a conspiracy to commit an offense listed if an attempt, solicitation or conspiracy itself is a felony.
The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. Lawmakers introduced the bill April 1, with support and opposition to the bill quickly emerging.
Several senators spoke for and against the bill Wednesday.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey Jr. (R-Texarkana), who co-sponsored the bill, told senators that while there is a lot of feelings on the issue of hate crimes, the bill will change the state’s criminal code to protect people who are targeted. Hickey said the bill will also help prosecutors with having another proverbial tool in their tool belt in prosecuting cases.
The bill would not interfere with the United States or Arkansas Constitution, the Arkansas Civil Rights Law of 1993 and cannot be amended through an executive order by the governor, Hickey said.
Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock), who opposed the bill, said she believes SB622 was a placebo on the issue and that a bill that she and Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) worked on for several years “went down in flames” in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning.
The bill’s approval also drew opposition from Arkansas Family Council and Anti-Defamation League South Central Wednesday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted against SB 3 Wednesday morning.
According to content partner Talk Business & Politics, the bill was voted down and did not receive a second to be voted out of committee.
A “Do not pass” motion, to kill the bill in committee, was also introduced at the meeting, but failed on a roll call vote, Talk Business & Politics reported.
Sen. Elliott said she believed SB622 was insufficient and did not provide specifics on who would be protected.
Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway), who voted present on the bill, said he has struggled with the issue leading up to the debate. Rapert said he commended the attempt on the issue and believes the bill will protect people, no matter what.
Sen. Rapert also said he was upset over the lack of civility in today’s politics, but that the bill works to protect the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection under the Law provision.
Region 8 News will have more information as it becomes available.