While Arkansas legislators possibly passing hate crimes legislation is “a little bit controversial,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he thinks “it’s important, and I think it relates to economic development.”

Hutchinson discussed the proposed legislation last week during the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 100 For the Future virtual meeting.

He pointed out that Arkansas remains one of three states that does not have a hate crime law, “which is a law that is not a new offense, it simply provides an enhancement, an enhanced penalty, if you were perpetrating a crime of violence because you are targeting someone, whether it’s because of their race or gender, or because of some other factor or characteristic of their life.”

A hate crimes bill was filled earlier this month by several legislators. It would cover crimes committed due to characteristics such as race, religion, homelessness, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and armed forces services. Sentences for such crimes could be enhanced by 20 percent.

The bill is expected to be considered during the next legislative session in 2021.

Hutchinson gave as an example the Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, where gunman Patrick Crusius drove more than 11 hours to reportedly kill Hispanics at a Walmart. Crusius is accused of killing 23 people and injuring 23 more.

“Texas has a hate crime law,” Hutchinson said. “What that does is it brings an expression in our society that hate-filled actions like that, that lead to violence, should have an enhanced penalty and we want to stand against that.

“It also sends a signal to those who we try to recruit to Arkansas that we understand the importance of diversity in the workplace and protecting those that might reflect that diversity. I hope that is something the Legislature will consider as well. This is something that is worthy of a good debate and I hope that you all will contact your legislators and let them know you support that if that is the case.”

Hutchinson also mentioned the importance of legislators make decisions that show the state’s support for law enforcement.

“They are out there protecting us so we want to make sure that we have a session that supports our law enforcement,” Hutchinson said. “One of the things specifically is to increase the recruitment efforts for our state police by lowering the retirement age from 30 years to retire down to 28. That makes it more comparable with those in other parts of state government. That’s a start in the right direction, so I hope that is something we can do to show our support for law enforcement.”

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