Governor Hutchinson announced today he’d sign the stand-your-ground bill (SB 24) that eliminates a need to retreat before shooting a perceived threatening person and also HB 1112 to eliminate a means for absentee voters to attest to their identity through an affidavit without providing a photo ID.
Easier to kill; harder to vote. That’s how his nephew, Sen. Jim Hendren, put it last week in assessing the two bills. They are now law.
Hutchinson issued prepared statements defending both decisions.
He said changes in the stand-your-ground bill over a bill defeated two years ago had eliminated law enforcement opposition and that persuaded him to sign the bill. The key change says people who shoot must be lawfully in the place where they use deadly force.
He said he’d heard “genuine fears” from the minority community about the bill that was “heartfelt and real,” but he said there was “nothing in the bill that would lead to different outcomes in the criminal justice system.” Experience in other states indicates, however, that such laws contribute to more homicides and they are applied in racially disparate ways.
He said the passage of this bill should be accompanied by legislative approval of hate crimes legislation — enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by animus toward a particular group. That legislation has faced strong legislative opposition.
Both laws are about the “fundamental right of all citizens to feel safe,” Hutchinson said. He said he hoped SB 24 supporters would also support the hate crime bill that says “Arkansas will not tolerate crimes against citizens for who they are.”
He said Arkansas is the last of neighboring states to adopt a stand-your-ground law and it is now the only one of neighboring states without a hate crime law (one of only three in the country).
This statement was issued immediately afterward:
The Arkansas chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots networks, released the following statement after Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that he would sign SB 24, a so-called “Stand Your Ground” bill which will allow vigilantes and extremists to shoot first and ask questions later, weaken gun laws, make Arkansas less safe, and have disparate impacts on people of color.
“The evidence is stunningly clear: this law will make Arkansas less safe,” said Kate Fletcher, a volunteer with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action. “But instead of following the evidence and listening to the overwhelming opposition to this deadly bill, too many of our lawmakers caved to bullies like Sen. Ballinger, Rep. Pilkington, and their NRA allies. Shame on them.”
The voter ID bill eliminates a constitutional alternative to qualifying absentee votes, a signed affidavit. Hundreds of absentee votes without an ID would have been disqualified had such a law been in effect in 2020. It also eliminates a means to cure absentee ballots with small technical problems or without the ID. That cure is open to in-person voters, within a six-day window that requires a trip to the county clerk or election commission.
He said the legislature has provided a means for people to get a free state ID. He said he has consistently supported an ID requirement. “If voters are not provided necessary assistant in voting, then the legislature should change the law to accommodate their needs,” he said. Problem: Many people, particularly poor and infirm, don’t have the means to get to county clerks to get an ID or the means to make a copy of an acceptable ID to mail in with an absentee ballot. This law WILL reduce voting. That is the aim of it and hundreds of bills being pushed by Republicans nationwide. As a Republican lawyer told the U.S. Supreme Court in so many words this week, increased voting favors Democrats.
On other legislation, he said he expected the House to approve SB 6 today, a ban on all abortions except to save a mother’s life. He said he has always supported “pro-life” legislation. “I will continue to look at it and have a statement next week,” he said. In other words, he’s likely to sign it, too, despite its certain unconstitutionality under existing court precedent.
Vetoes are largely pointless in Arkansas, given the simple majority needed to override them. Sometimes legislators, though supportive of legislation, will defer to a governor on a veto decision particularly when they forcefully argue, as Hutchinson could here, that the law will be enjoined and the state will spend a significant sum defending the law in court. Given the size of the majorities on these pieces of legislation, however, the expectation of the legislature sustaining a veto on Republican agenda bills is slight.
Governor Hutchinson used the session with reporters to repeat his criticism of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package. He said it was too large and he objected to a shift in the formula for spending a portion of the funding to states from a strict per capita allocation to spending based on unemployment rates. He said this could cost Arkansas $390 million.
He acknowledged the state’s half-billion surplus to absorb COVID needs. He reiterated that the overall bill is too large, but if the money is to be spent it should be spent fairly. He said other states had not made “the same tough decisions” Arkansas had made in forging ahead with business-near-normal. Other states, he said, will be “rewarded for their action at our expense.” That is something of an oversimplification, because some states, for example, have high unemployment because of damage to large tourism industries. Many states also have lower COVID disease and death rates because they took stronger steps than Hutchinson was willing to take in enforcing health guidelines. In a way, they are all paying for Arkansas’s dereliction on that front.
He also announced he’d formed an Energy Resources Planning Task Force to assess how utilities and others performed in coping with the recent freeze, including in comparison with other states.