The Arkansas Legislature passed a bill Friday preventing cities and counties from enacting laws that protect LGBT individuals against discrimination, in part because it claimed such laws prevent business from relocating to the state. Newly elected Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is not expected to veto the bill, which passed 57-20 in the House and was approved in the state Senate Monday, according to Buzzfeed News. The Arkansas ACLU criticized the legislation, saying it is “designed to permit as much discrimination as possible in the state.”
The legislation was inspired by the council in Fayetteville, which passed a bill barring discrimination on sexual orientation grounds that was later repealed by city residents. The state bill forbids cities and localities to create their own protected classes on discrimination, without specifically mentioning LGBT categories. The passage of the state bill comes days after the town of Eureka Springs quickly passed a law banning LGBT discrimination, which will set up a court battle if the state legislation becomes law.
State Rep. Bob Ballinger, a Republican, said he sponsored the bill because he was incensed at localities that offered protections for LGBT people, and cities having different laws governing such protections creates confusion for businesses that want to set up shop in the state. “This bill creates uniformity for business, and citizens for that matter, that our employment laws will be the same throughout the state,” he said, according to Buzzfeed News. “There are some things on a statewide basis we deal with all the time, such as murder and fraud — a variety of things that need to be uniform.”
State Rep. Clarke Tucker, a Democrat, called the bill a “proactive act of discrimination,” and said the business concerns didn’t hold water because most Fortune 500 companies that protect LGBT workers may deterred rather than drawn to Arkansas. “If we pass this legislation, we will be sending a message that we are out of step with corporate culture today in 2015,” he said on the House floor before the vote was held.
Since the bill doesn’t explicitly single out LGBT people, groups like students and veterans may also be set up for discrimination in Arkansas, according to Holly Dickson, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas’ legal director. “In targeting LGBT people, they have cast a wide net and prevented protections for a wide variety of groups,” she said.
Arizona considered similar controversial legislation, known as SB-1062, with a "religious liberty" exemption, but then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it last year after the NFL threatened not to hold the Super Bowl in the Phoenix area because of it. In her veto, Brewer said the bill “could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want.” The Super Bowl was played at the University of Phoenix Stadium earlier this month.