The open line: Legislature slouches home. Also: Comments on the religion bill 'fix'; Tom Cotton is heard from | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The open line: Legislature slouches home. Also: Comments on the religion bill 'fix'; Tom Cotton is heard from

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 4:01 PM


One day back from the sunny Caribbean, I can't say I'm glad to be here. But here's an open line. And the daily video report. Can we get a second for a legislative adjournment motion? UPDATE: Prayer answered, The House recessed with no plans to reconvene before adjournment in May unless an unexpected need arises.

ALSO:

* MORE TOM COTTON: Of course he doesn't like the nuclear agreement with Iran.

* STONEWALL DEMOCRATS: The activist gay rights group in the Democratic Party emphasized the positive in its statement on the compromise bill that mitigated somewhat an original effort to make it easy to use religion as a pretext to discriminate against gay people. Such arguments remain possible, if harder, and gay people still have no legal protection against discrimination in Arkansas, but said the Stonewall Democrats:

* HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: It said the "fix" improved the "disastrous" HB 1228 but fell short on non-discrimination protections.

Their statements follow on the jump.

STONEWALL DEMOCRATS

We thank Governor Asa Hutchinson for recognizing that HB 1228 was not the same law as the federal RFRA law, for refusing to sign HB1228 and for sending it back to the House for bipartisan amendments to amend HB1228 to mirror federal RFRA law. We appreciate the effort on the part of the Governor to work toward a bipartisan resolution and the political reality that we must have bipartisan solutions for our government to effectively work.

We are pleased that both the Senate and House have come to a bipartisan compromise and passed SB 975 that mirrors the federal RFRA law and are mindful of the hard work and compromise by both Democrats and Republicans. The bipartisan SB 975 that has resulted through extensive negotiation is a compromise from both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Neither party got the exact bill they wanted. Arkansas Stonewall Democratic Caucus did not get everything we desired such as a civil rights carve out that would include LGBT and other minority group protections. However, this is progress and one small step towards our ultimate goal of full equality. We are encouraged that federal RFRA law has never been successfully used to discriminate against a minority group including LGBT.

This fight is far from over. Arkansas Stonewall Democrats are still fighting for full LGBT equality in the State of Arkansas. That is why we will continue to respectfully request that the Governor issue an executive order that dictates freedom and equality for all citizens of Arkansas no matter their race, gender, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age and military status or veteran’s status. All of these individuals are a vital part of creating and fostering a robust economic and social environment. An executive order would ensure that our great state does not foster or condone discrimination of any kind. By doing this, the Governor can remove the doubt that there will be discrimination in Arkansas.

Please join Arkansas Stonewall Democrats in our continuing fight for equality. The public played a crucial role in stopping HB 1228 from becoming law and will continue to play a crucial role in achieving equality for all. Please sign our petition requesting the Governor to issue an executive order to ensure equality for all.

HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN

Today, the Arkansas legislature passed and Governor Asa Hutchinson signed legislation that improves the disastrous H.B. 1228 but falls short of providing needed non-discrimination protections to all Arkansans. Though an improvement, the legislation can still be used as a weapon to discriminate against LGBT people, people of color, minority faiths, women and other Arkansans at risk. The earlier legislation, H.B. 1228, is still on Governor Hutchinson’s desk, and HRC calls on the Arkansas House to recall that hateful bill immediately. HRC also calls on Governor Hutchinson to make good on his suggestion yesterday and issue an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination.

“The people of Arkansas spoke up in opposition to a discriminatory, mean-spirited bill, and the state's leaders backed away from the cliff,” said Chad Griffin, an Arkansas native and the President of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization. “Today, LGBT Arkansans are still unequal, and today’s battle points toward a broader struggle ahead—a fight where full and complete equality for all Arkansans that cannot be undermined is the only acceptable outcome. Today, we double down on that commitment, and those fighting for equality in the Natural State should feel encouraged that their efforts can and do make a difference.”

“The fact remains that the only way to ensure LGBT Arkansans are treated equally under state law is to add explicit protections for them,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s Legal Director. “Moving forward, Arkansas should explicitly clarify that the RFRA cannot be used to undermine non-discrimination protections at any level. In addition, all states and the federal government should provide explicit non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, while well-intentioned, has been used in recent years to justify problematic behavior that harms third parties. We remain concerned that the federal RFRA and bills modeled after it may be used to undermine protections for the LGBT community and other minority groups. This new legislation, if it passes and becomes law, could be used to undermine existing and future civil rights laws in the state, and that is unacceptable.”

The Governor’s bill comes as civil rights leaders, organizations and corporations have spoken out against the bill, including Apple and its CEO Tim Cook; Acxiom, one of Arkansas largest employers; Arkansas-based Wal-Mart; Yelp; PayPal; the Arkansas Municipal League and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Two members of the historic ‘Little Rock Nine’, Ernie Green and Carlotta Walls Lanier, who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School, also condemned the legislation, as well as civil rights leader Julian Bond.

In February, the Arkansas legislature passed S.B. 202, prohibiting municipalities from enacting non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people. Governor Hutchinson allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

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