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Arkansas town rushes to pass local LGBT non-discrimination law ahead of state ban

Arkansas town rushes to pass local LGBT non-discrimination law ahead of state ban
Eureka Springs, Ark.
Eureka Springs, Ark. Wikimedia

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. — The Eureka Springs city council on Monday unanimously passed an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance, just hours after the state Senate approved a bill to prohibit local governments from passing such laws.

In a 5-0 vote, the council passed a policy that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in areas of employment, public accommodations and housing.

“We passed the first domestic-partnership law in the state, married the first same-sex couples in the state. Yet as a community, we don’t have laws to protect those people,” Aldermanr James DeVito told the council, in introducing the measure.

The ordinance was rushed through three readings at Monday’s council meeting so it would become law before a bill in the state Legislature passes, making the creation or enforcement of such ordinances illegal.

The council also passed an emergency clause to put the new ordinance into effect as soon as possible.

Mayor Robert Berry described the policy as a “time of the essence” ordinance due to a bill, filed by state Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs), that would ban future, local civil rights ordinances.

That bill, SB 202, passed in the Arkansas Senate on Monday afternoon, and could be approved in the House and become state law as early as next week because of its own “emergency clause.”

Mayor Robert Berry says he’ll sign the ordinance by Wednesday, but state Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) said the state bill “trumps over municipal law,” and that he believes SB 202 “would nullify any current civil rights ordinances in the state.”

Ballinger is sponsoring SB 202 in the House, and said and it’ll go before the City, County and Local Affairs Committee on Thursday and could be on the House floor as early as Monday.

Hester said he expects the bill to pass in the House and be on Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk for his signature in two weeks.

The ordinance passed in Eureka Springs is similar to one approved last year in Fayetteville, but was repealed by area voters in a special election on Dec. 9, 2014.

The Eureka Springs City Council also adopted a resolution against Hester’s bill and plans to send the resolution to lawmakers in Little Rock.

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