State Sen. Jim Hendren’s hate crimes bill is heading before a legislative committee on Wednesday.
It has been a long path for Hendren’s proposed bill to get to committee. Entitled Senate Bill 3, this legislation was first filed on Nov. 16, 2020 and was read a first and second time on January 11, 2021. It was then referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since that time, it has not been brought up in the committee.
Under this bill, Hendren proposes enhanced penalties for “offenses committed due to a victim’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability, or service in United States Armed Forces.” In order to seek a sentence enhancement under this bill, the state would have to find an offender guilty and then determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual “purposely selected” the victim based on the attributes listed above.
The sentence enhancement could include an additional prison term equal to 20 percent of the defendant’s imprisonment term, an additional fine equal to 20 percent of any assessed fine, or an additional term of probation, suspended sentence or suspended imposition of sentence equal to 20 percent of any other probation, suspended sentence, or suspended imposition of sentence. The sentence enhancement is not permitted to exceed 20 percent of a sentence.
Hate crime legislation has attracted notice this week in Arkansas with the passage of Senate Bill 622 out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, April 5. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana), would allow for that individuals convicted of violent crimes under an “aggravating circumstance” to have a delayed release, requiring them to serve 80 percent of their prison sentence.
This bill would require offenders to be convicted of a violent felony, such as murder, battery in the first degree or other acts, under an aggravating circumstance. This aggravating circumstance was defined as an act where the offender targets a victim because he/she was part of a “recognizable and identifiable group or class who share mental, physical, biological, cultural, political or religious beliefs or characteristics.”
During the Monday committee meeting, Hendren raised concerns about Hickey’s bill, stating that he wanted to add clarity to the bill by adding specific groups and classes. He proposed an amendment to Hickey’s bill which was killed by lack of a second when he made the motion to amend.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Hendren’s uncle, chimed in on Hickey’s bill before the committee met to discuss and vote on it. He stated that Hendren’s bill was likely stronger than Senate Bill 622 but noted that he supported it.
“While the original bill was probably the strongest, this one does move the ball forward, accomplishes a great deal in terms of protecting any group that might be targeting because of who they are. That is success under any definition. As the Speaker has said, the penalties are more severe, the breadth is more clear. I hope that they pass that today.”
However, Hutchinson commented that Hickey’s bill lacked a “strict itemization” of groups and classes that could be targeted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet on Wednesday, April 7, at 9:30 a.m.