ARKANSAS ON THE BRINK: Senate Poised to Pass Broad & Dangerous RFRA

by HRC Staff

As LGBT, minority and business communities watch in horror, legislature advances second anti-competitive, anti-LGBT, anti-Arkansas bill this session

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and HRC Arkansas condemned an Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee vote late yesterday advancing H.B. 1228—a bill which would empower individuals to pick and choose which laws they want to follow and allow an individual to sue government actors, including teachers, firefighters and police officers, if that individual believes their religious rights were being violated by a government action.

The committee’s 5-3 vote reverses an earlier vote rejecting the bill last month—and comes despite public opposition to the bill by Apple, Wal-Mart, the state Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Municipal League, and countless fair-minded Arkansans opposed because of its likelihood of harming Arkansas’ LGBT community, religious minorities and the business climate in the state.

“It will take decades to repair the economic and social damage this bill will do to my home state of Arkansas if it becomes law,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This is the second piece of viciously anti-LGBT legislation taken up this year, and the message this legislature is sending to LGBT Arkansans, the business community and to the whole country is, ‘get out, keep out, we don’t want your business or your efforts to grow this state and its economy.’”

The business opposition to H.B. 1228 has been pointed. In a statement released last month, Apple noted, "our employees in Little Rock have a right to equal treatment under the law, as do their coworkers in Cupertino and around the world. We join the many voices across Arkansas in opposing H.B. 1228 and we urge the State's legislators to vote against the bill."Wal-Mart offered similar criticism: “While H.B. 1228 will not change how we treat our associates and operate our business, we feel this legislation is also counter to our core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate, where anti-LGBT members believe they have enough votes to pass the legislation. An AP report late yesterday noted that Governor Asa Hutchinson has “stopped short” of saying whether he would sign the bill should it reach his desk. The bill’s progress comes weeks after the legislature passed, and Governor Hutchinson allowed to become law, S.B. 202, a bill banning Arkansas municipalities from extending non-discrimination protections to their LGBT citizens.

"This committee vote was a shameful outcome for a shameful bill,"Kendra R. Johnson, HRC Arkansas state director said in a statement after last night’s vote. "The fight now turns to the full Senate, where all fair-minded Arkansans must stand together to halt this destructive legislation that undermines the core values of this state."

After the anti-LGBT legislation was introduced earlier this year, HRC Arkansas undertook a statewide television ad campaign and an advocacy blitz—activating thousands of Arkansans to call their state legislators and oppose the bill. HRC says that campaign will continue with greater urgency than ever before.

“This legislation must be stopped, because there is no turning back from the damage it will do to the state my entire family calls home. Members of the Senate and Governor Hutchinson must know that there are real and deeply personal consequences to brazenly targeting some of the most vulnerable people in your state—folks who sit in your church pew and even around your own dinner table,” said Griffin.

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