Lame Duck Session On Hate Crimes?

Rumors are flying Governor Asa Hutchinson wants to call a special session sometime after the election and before the end of the year.

What is it that is so urgent that a lame duck legislature needs to meet before the new legislature begins meeting in January? Rumors say he wants to pass a hate crimes bill in a special session. Perhaps because in a special session there would be very little time for legislators to debate the issue or consider revisions to the bill.

The rumors have come from legislators, local officials, and lobbyists, but that doesn’t mean a special session will actually happen. Perhaps the rumors are wrong or maybe the idea has been discarded because having a special session after the election just looks bad.

Asa’s nephew, Senator Jim Hendren has a hate crimes bill, and he is needing his uncle’s help to get attention since he is running for Governor in 2022. Rushing the bill through a special session would give Hendren attention and help him avoid opposition or competing legislation that might arise if there was more time to consider the issue.

Perhaps, too, Governor Hutchinson sees a special session on the subject as a way to get attention for a future run for President (don’t laugh).

Whether you are “For,” “Against,” or indifferent about a hate crimes bill, calling a special session with lame ducks voting on legislation is a bad idea, especially when the new legislature will convene a few weeks later.

WHAT IS HATE CRIMES LEGISLATION?

Hate crimes legislation adds a harsher penalty for a crime if it is shown the person committed the crime based on the victim’s characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Arkansas is one of the few states that does not have a hate crimes law, but what classifications are covered in the other states varies greatly.

FULL DISCUSSION VERSUS SPECIAL SESSION RUSH.

The subject deserves more time for discussion than is available in a special session. There will be questions legislators will want to consider. Should people receive a lesser sentence just because they are not on the hate crimes list? Which is worse, someone who hates or a cold-blooded criminal psychopath? If there is to be a list, should other factors be on a list for an enhanced sentence? What about:

  • A person who attacks law enforcement officers because he hates the police?
  • A Marxists rioter who justifies looting and destroying businesses because he hates capitalists?
  • A radical leftist who brutally attacks a person he hates for wearing a Make America Great Again cap or for expressing support for Blue Lives, President Trump or for America?
  • A person who hates his victim for dating his ex-wife or for some other reason not on the list?

Wherever you stand on the issue, the issue and the details deserve more discussion than is possible in a quick up or down in a special session.

Also, it is strange to have a gaggle of lame ducks, who have lost their election or did not run for reelection, helping pass laws after election day and within weeks of the new legislature convening. In fact, it would be disrespectful of the newly elected legislators and their voters.

LAME DUCK SESSIONS HIGHLY UNUSUAL

The Bureau of Legislative Research lists every legislative session of the legislature since 1969. A special session after the election has happened only twice, in 1992 and 2000.[i] Both of those sessions were about budget and tax issues.

  • The 1992 lame duck session after the election addressed a budget crisis in the Medicaid program by imposing a list of new taxes and sending the money to the Medicaid program. The circumstances giving rise to the lame duck session were very unusual. The budget crisis might have been addressed much earlier had then Governor Bill Clinton not been preoccupied with running for president.  After being elected President, Clinton resigned as Governor on December 12, 1992, which made Lt. Governor Jim Guy Tucker, the new Governor, immediately call a special session for Medicaid funding.
  • The 2000 lame duck session after the election was called by then Governor Mike Huckabee. It was also about tax and budget issues. It adopted a $300 property tax credit for property owners but imposed a one-half percent (0.50%) sales tax. The session also added money to scholarship programs.

Neither the 1992 nor the 2000 lame duck sessions included complicated issues.

Let’s just get through this difficult 2020 and wait for January before the legislature meets again.

We hope the rumors of a lame duck session after the election have become incorrect. Whatever issues that might be used to call a lame duck session surely can wait a few weeks for the new legislature to convene and address.

The new Arkansas Legislature convenes January 11, 2021.


[i] https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Bureau/Document?type=pdf&source=assembly%2F2019%2F2019R%2FDocuments&filename=2019R_Legislative_General_Summary

Lame Duck Sessions: December 14 –18, 1992 (78th – SES 1992)  and December 13 – 15, 2000 (82nd – SES 2000)

 

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