LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Officials in Arkansas’ most populous county and one of its most popular tourist destinations said Tuesday they’re considering prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, expanding the pushback against a new state law criticized as anti-gay.
A member of the Hot Springs city board proposed prohibiting the city and its vendors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, while a member of Pulaski County’s governing board said he’s drafting a similar ordinance.
The proposals are modeled after an ordinance approved by Little Rock last week and are aimed at challenging a state law intended to prevent local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community.
“It seems like the right thing to do,” said Becca Clark, the Hot Springs city board member who proposed the ordinance expected to come up for a vote next week. “What happened in the state Legislature this session concerned me. I just feel like they were working really hard to allow and protect the idea of discrimination against a particular class of people.”
Clark unveiled the proposed ordinance at the board’s meeting Tuesday, with a final vote expected May 5.
Tyler Denton, a member of Pulaski County’s quorum court, said he’s finalizing a proposed non-discrimination ordinance that he hopes to bring up for a vote next month.
“I want it to be blatantly obvious that Pulaski County respects all people, accepts all people and is willing to do business with all people,” Denton said.
Arkansas earlier this year became the second state to ban local ordinances from prohibiting discrimination on a basis not recognized by the state, and Arkansas is among 29 states that don’t include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws. The new state law doesn’t apply to a city and county’s policies applying to its employees, but Little Rock’s ordinance and the other two proposals go a step further with the restriction on vendors.
Little Rock’s attorney has said he believes the provision is legal, noting that other state laws dealing with cyberbullying and domestic violence shelters prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge so far hasn’t weighed in on whether she believes the city’s ordinance complies with the new state law, which takes effect July 22.
The state senator behind the Arkansas law said he believes the ordinances go against the spirit of his measure, which he says was intended to ensure businesses faced the same rules throughout the state. Hot Springs’ mayor said she’s also opposed to the proposal in her city.
“I think it should come from the state Legislature so it’s consistent with our state, not just city by city,” Mayor Ruth Carney said.
The proposals are the latest among a series of moves challenging the new law. Residents in Eureka Springs next month are voting on an ordinance prohibiting the city and businesses from discriminating against LGBT people. A group is also gathering signatures to put a referendum on the law before voters next year.
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