LITTLE ROCK (KFSM) – Arkansas Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, filed a bill in Little Rock Monday (Feb. 2) that would keep cities in the state from passing civil rights ordinances that are different from the federal law.
Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams said he wasn't surprised to hear the state legislature may consider a bill that prohibits passing laws, like the Civil Rights Ordinance, which Fayetteville voters repealed in December.
“I predicted, to the city council, that the legislature would attempt to preempt the area of civil rights so that Fayetteville, nor any other city, could pass an ordinance to protect the rights of gay and lesbian citizens from being discriminated against,” Williams said.
According to Hester, his bill would keep cities from making civil rights laws that go further than protections already offered by federal law.
“I think the City of Fayetteville needs to understand the people of Fayetteville have spoken, and have said they don`t want this type of bill,” Hester said.
But Williams argues the bill is a way to make discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals legal.
“That's the only group right now who don't have any protection against discrimination,” Williams said.
“The amount of groups that are not protected is endless,” Hester said. “At the end of the day, the federal government has protected classes, and the State of Arkansas honors that.”
Hester said the main goal of his bill is to protect business owners from being falsely accused, and fined, for discrimination claims.
“[Arkansans] have to be able to have uniformity in business law across the state, to make sure that businesses could operate here, and we can have good jobs for families who need them,” Hester said.
Williams believes the bill is not to protect businesses, but rather to avoid protecting gay and lesbian rights.
“It's [written] in a language for economic development,” Williams said. “When, really, all it is is a way to prevent cities from trying to protect their gay and lesbian citizens from unfair discrimination.”
Williams said he cannot speculate on the future of the city’s efforts for a revised civil rights bill, while Hester said he anticipates the legislature will pass his bill with a "super majority."
Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, introduced a similar bill in the Arkansas House of Representatives.