Arkansas Senate OKs bill to prohibit local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances

Arkansas state capitol in Little Rock.

Arkansas state capitol in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Senate has approved legislation that would bar local governments from making it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Senate voted 24-8 on Monday to prohibit cities and counties from enacting ordinances that prohibit discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.

If enacted, the measure would make Arkansas the second state to place such a restriction. The proposal now heads to the House.

The measure is being pushed in reaction to a Fayetteville ordinance that voters repealed in December expanding the city’s anti-discrimination protections.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, said the proposal is a thinly-veiled attempt to discriminate because of sexual orientation.

“This anti-LGBT bill is aimed at punishing the Fayetteville mayor and city council who sought to provide all of the city’s residents with non-discrimination protections.” HRC spokesman Hubert Tate said.

Republican Sen. Bart Hester, who proposed the legislation, said it is intended to standardize laws across the state, which he said is just as important as civil rights.

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“What we need to do in the state of Arkansas is create a uniform and standardized process for any business to come in,” Hester said.

The proposal was approved on a mostly party line vote, with three of the Senate’s 11 Democrats voting for the bill. The state Democratic Party issued a statement opposing the measure, and the top Democrat in the chamber portrayed the restriction as hypocritical compared to Republicans‘ rhetoric.

“If Washington passed something like this and passed it down to the states, we would scream about federal overreach,” said Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram.

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