Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a “Stand Your Ground” bill into law Wednesday (March 3) despite his belief that it’s not necessary, but he hopes the Legislature also will pass a hate crimes bill as a complementary measure.
The Arkansas governor spoke about the legislation during a “Pen and Pad” session in his office with reporters.
Act 250 by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, states that a person no longer has a duty to retreat before threatening or using deadly physical force if they are lawfully present, have a reasonable belief that they or another person faced death or serious physical injury, and did not provoke the confrontation.
The governor earlier had questioned the bill, which as Senate Bill 24 passed the Senate, 27-7, and the House, 72-23. A governor’s veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote.
Hutchinson said he tries to avoid unnecessary legislation because of unanticipated results. But he noted that law enforcement representatives and prosecutors no longer opposed the bill, as they did a similar bill in the 2019 legislative session. He said that “there’s nothing in the language of the bill that would lead to different outcomes in our criminal justice system.”
He said he understands the concerns expressed by some that the bill will make racial minorities more vulnerable to acts of violence.
“I do believe the law is not problematic in terms of the language of the legislation, but in terms of the reaction of the people to that legislation, I am concerned as to how they would interpret this, as to how they will interpret their use of firearms even though the legislation itself does not – even the sponsors say, doesn’t change that much,” he said.
He said he hoped that legislators who passed the Stand Your Ground legislation also will pass hate crimes legislation that has failed to advance in the Senate. Senate Bill 3 would enhance penalties for crimes committed against a person because of 12 characteristics, including race, religion and sexual orientation. He called the two bills complementary.
“After listening to the fears of those opposed to the Stand Your Ground bill, I’m more convinced than ever that Arkansas must pass meaningful legislation to address crimes committed against citizens solely for who they are and what they believe,” he said. “The justification for Stand Your Ground laws and laws addressing targeted crimes are the same – the fundamental right of all citizens to feel safe.”
He noted Arkansas’ neighboring states have already removed the “duty to retreat” before using deadly force in self defense, while 47 states including neighboring states have laws regarding targeting citizens because of their characteristics.
Ballinger said in a text that he appreciates the governor signing his bill, but that he could not support the current hate crimes legislation. He said it “creates special protections for some groups over others. I don’t want to create citizens who are ‘more equal’ than others. Hate crimes legislation could be drafted in such a way to avoid these special rights, but that is not what we have seen thus far.”
The primary sponsor of Senate Bill 3, Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, who voted against the Stand Your Ground bill, likewise rejected the comparison.
“I completely disagree about the relationship between hate crimes and SYG,” he wrote in a text. “However, I am still hopeful that we can pass a hate crimes bill this session. Passing legislation that will likely lead to additional homicides while simultaneously killing hate crimes legislation does not move Arkansas forward – at all.”
The governor also explained his decision to sign House Bill 1112, now Act 249, by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, which would remove Arkansans’ ability to have their provisional ballots counted without proper identification by signing their name.
Hutchinson said he has consistently supported a voter identification requirement as long as state assistance is available for anyone who does not have personal identification, as state law requires.
The governor said the law’s effects should be monitored and that if voters are not provided necessary assistance, further legislation should accommodate them.
The governor also expressed concerns regarding the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus and COVID-19 relief package being debated in Washington. While previous allocations during the COVID-19 pandemic have been based on per capita population, the Biden administration formula bases the largest part of the money on unemployment rates.
That formula would cost Arkansas $390 million, Hutchinson said. He said the state has worked hard to keep its economy moving and has made difficult budgetary decisions. He said the state would use the money for projects such as investing in rural broadband. Hutchinson said he had spoken to Arkansas Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, and they agreed with his concerns.
He reiterated his belief the stimulus package is too large.
Also, the governor said he had worked closely with Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, on Senate Bill 379, which sets up processes for the Legislature to end a governor’s declared state of emergency.
Hutchinson said he had worked with legislators to accomplish their desire for greater engagement during an emergency, but said governors must be able to respond to a public health crisis.
“I’ve worked on this. I’ve read this. And while it might not be perfect. I think it does achieve that balance, and it provides the chief executive the flexibility that’s needed,” he said.
He said he would sign the bill if it passes in its current form. He said he is not opposed to it but half-jokingly declined to say he supports it because such support might make legislators want to make the bill even tougher for governors.
The governor said he expects Senate Bill 6, a bill that would ban most abortions in Arkansas, to soon reach his desk. The House passed that bill Wednesday (March 3), 75-18, after it earlier passed the Senate, 27-7. He said he supports pro-life legislation but will continue to study the bill and will make a statement next week.
He has expressed concerns about provisions in the bill in the past. The bill does not provide for exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. He questions if the legislation might actually hurt the pro-life cause if it results in an unfavorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The governor also signed a proclamation that by executive order will establish the Energy Resources Planning Task Force to review how regional power administrations, utilities and the state performed during the recent snowstorm.
He said he had asked to be co-chairs Secretary of Energy and the Environment Becky Keogh, Oil and Gas Commission Director Lawrence Bengal, Arkansas Liquified Petroleum Gas Board Director Kevin Pfalser, and Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston or their designees.
The task force would prepare a report reviewing what happened and suggesting future preparations by Sept. 30.
Hutchinson said other task forces to study levies and law enforcement had recommended legislation that is moving through the Legislature.