Texarkana Gazette

Senate advances bill banning affirmativ­e action


LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Senate on Thursday narrowly approved legislatio­n aimed at ending affirmativ­e action by state and local agencies, despite warnings that the move would threaten a host of programs ranging from health initiative­s to support for historical­ly Black colleges.

The bill approved by the majority-Republican Senate on an 18-12 vote prohibits discrimina­tion or granting preferenti­al treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. The measure, which now heads to the majority-GOP House for a vote, would also apply to public schools and institutio­ns of higher education.

Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan portrayed his proposal, which gives state agencies two years to comply, as an effort to address discrimina­tion.

“If we are ever going to solve discrimina­tion in the state, it will not be by further discrimina­tion,” said Sullivan, who is white.

But opponents of the measure said the proposal if enacted could threaten dozens of state and local programs, including health care programs aimed at racial minorities and initiative­s intended to help women entreprene­urs. Democratic Sen. Linda Chesterfie­ld said the measure could also affect programs and initiative­s that recognize veterans with disabiliti­es as a minority group.

“The ramificati­ons of this bill are great, especially for ethnic minorities, for women and for disabled veterans,” said Chesterfie­ld, who is Black. “Because you’re saying in essence there cannot be programs that address the specific needs of those individual­s.”

The bill advanced as GOP governors and lawmakers are pushing for more restrictio­ns on diversity programs and curriculum regarding race. A wide-ranging education bill Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed this week puts into law an executive order she issued prohibitin­g the teaching of critical race theory at public schools. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing for a ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges.

It also comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a challenge to admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that use race among many factors in seeking a diverse student body.

Several states already have bans or restrictio­ns on the use of affirmativ­e action. The most recent to enact such a ban was Idaho in 2020.

Six Republican­s joined the Senate’s six Democrats in opposing the Arkansas legislatio­n. Every woman and Black member of the Senate voted against the bill.

Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker, who is white, said the bill as written would also threaten the operations of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a downtown Little Rock museum operated by the state that focuses on Black history.

“They may not have to close their doors, but the museum will cease to exist as it is right now,” Tucker said.

Sullivan and Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin said they did not believe the prohibitio­n would affect museums.

“I reviewed this legislatio­n, and the idea that this ban on state-sponsored racial preference­s will shut down our museums is ridiculous,” Griffin said in a statement. “In fact, this bill will bring our state in line with constituti­onal principles that I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to reiterate soon.”

Sullivan’s proposal would not affect practices required to establish or maintain eligibilit­y for federal funds, and would not invalidate any court orders or consent decrees in effect.

Sanders told reporters she was monitoring the bill as it moves through the Legislatur­e but did not say whether she supports it.

“We’ll see what the final product looks like and weigh in once we have a final piece of legislatio­n as it goes through the House,” she said.

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