93rd General Assembly: A preview into hot topics

in response to COVID-19, there are some hot topics that the General Assembly will consider in this session. Tree of these will be of particular concern to county law enforcement.

T Hate Crimes

Sen. Jim Hendren has pre-filed SB3, a piece of proposed legislation establishing certain hate crimes in Arkansas. SB3 is cosponsored by 14 House Democrats and two House Re- publicans and is also supported by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. According to Hendren, 47 other states have laws “that enhance penalties for crimes mo- tivated by hatred of someone’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, status in Armed Forces, homelessness, or gender identity.” Arkansas, along with South Carolina and Wyo- ming, does not. SB3 would create a sentence enhancement for qualifying crimes where the victim was targeted due to one of the quali- fying attributes. If the state believes that one of the qualify- ing attributes were a substantial motive in the commission of the crime, then the state may seek to have an enhanced penalty applied. Under SB3, if the court finds that the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt because of one of the qualifying victim attributes, the sentence, whether im- prisonment, fine, probation, or other, may be enhanced by not more than 20 percent. Proponents of the bill say the legislation is long overdue.

An FBI report shows that hate crimes across the nation in 2019 were at the highest point in a decade with a record- breaking 51 fatal attacks. Analysts also assert that hate crimes tend to increase during periods of heated political climate, and in conjunction with federal elections in particular. It is also seen as widely pro-business legislation and supported by Wal-Mart, Tyson, and the State Chamber of Commerce, since 47 states have similar laws in place, and those that do not may be seen as non-inclusive and deter potential em- ployers from locating there.

SB3 will not be an easy lift for its sponsors, as similar bills

have failed in Arkansas in the past, largely due to built-in pro- tections of individuals due to their sexual identity and ori- entation. Te bill is still opposed by some conservatives, and alternative proposals are expected to be filed.

Stand Your Ground

Another hot topic that is not a new one for the Arkansas 20

he 93rd General Assembly will convene on Jan. 11, 2021, in what promises to be an interesting session for various reasons. In addition to adopt- ing new procedures and adapting to the unknown

General Assembly that will see a re- surgence in the 2021 session is “stand your ground.” Te most notable at- tempt at recent “stand your ground” legislation in Arkansas was SB484 brought by Sen. Bob Ballinger in the 2019 general session. According to a recent post on the Senator’s Face- book page, 36 states are “stand-your- ground states,” with 27 of those having passed legislation, and the remaining eight states having caselaw to support the posi- tion. Although widely supported among Republican lawmak- ers, the bill failed to pass in the Senate Judiciary Committee in that session. Republican lawmakers have vowed to bring “stand your

LINDSEY FRENCH General Counsel

ground” legislation back in 2021. In 2019, the Governor said he was “hesitant” to change the law, because he thought Arkansas’ self-defense laws were strong as is, and many law enforcement organizations joined him with those concerns. Currently in Arkansas, one has the duty to retreat when they can do so safely unless they are in their own home. SB484 was amended four times in the 2019 session but was not able to pass out of committee before the session was adjourned. Proponents of “stand your ground” reform believe the cur-

rent requirement to retreat before engaging in deadly force, if they can do so safely, is impractical and dangerous. Tey say this requirement unreasonably prevents a person from being able to protect themselves or their loved ones when faced with danger. Ballinger’s bill would have not required a person to retreat, regardless of their location, before resorting to deadly force if: they were in a place legally, had reasonable belief they were in imminent danger of death or serious physical injury, had not provoked their adversary, and had not engaged in criminal activity. Opponents of “stand your ground” laws believe they increase

or encourage gun violence in an already turbulent political cli- mate. Tey believe the current duty to retreat if one can safely do so is important and saves lives by preventing encounters involving deadly force. Some opponents cite studies that have found that victims of stand your ground-justified altercations are disproportionately people of color, while others fear it may lead people to be more likely to “take matters into their own hands” and escalate situations toward violence unnecessarily.

Qualified Immunity

Under Arkansas law, public officers, including law enforce- COUNTY LINES, FALL 2020

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