Arkansas House panel advances bill to ban LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances

As of yet, Arkansas' civil rights law doesn't include sexual orientation or gender identity.

As of yet, Arkansas' civil rights law doesn't include sexual orientation or gender identity.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas municipality’s effort to protect its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents from discrimination would be nullified under a bill presented by the town’s state representative on Wednesday.

Arkansas-flagEdward Stojakovic (Flickr)
The House Local Affairs Committee voted 12-6 in favor of the measure, which would bar local governments from creating ordinances that prohibit discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.

The move would block efforts to protect people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, neither of which is protected under state law.

Aldermen in the northern Arkansas tourist town of Eureka Springs on Monday rushed through an ordinance outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in areas of employment, public accommodations and housing.

Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger from Hindsville, whose district includes the town, pushed for the bill that he said would negate the town ordinance. It cleared the Senate in a 24-8 vote on Monday and is headed to the full House for a vote.

Ballinger said certain anti-discrimination ordinances can hurt small business owners. He gave the committee an example of a day care operator who didn’t want to hire a transgender person.

“Maybe they’re very open and progressive in their mindset but they know some of their customers wouldn’t want a transgender person watching the kids,” Ballinger said. “You can call them narrow-minded or whatever, but they know it would hurt their business.”

The majority of the opposition from the committee came from the idea of taking local control away from cities and counties.

“We allow cities and counties to govern themselves and we normally don’t interfere with local issues,” said Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, after the meeting. “I’m still curious why it’s necessary for us to tell any municipality they can or cannot pass an ordinance, especially one that would mandate nondiscrimination.”

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Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, sponsored the bill but wasn’t at the meeting. He didn’t give a specific example of a company concerned with the current law, but believes from his experience in business that volatility will deter local investments.

“I think we need standardization with issues as important as civil rights,” Hester said.

Eureka Springs Mayor Robert Berry said he hasn’t talked with Ballinger about the bill but hopes that Gov. Asa Hutchinson would veto the measure if it clears the House.

“It’s frustrating that it has come about,” Berry said. “It remains to be seen what will happen.”

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