Last week, both chambers of the Arkansas legislature passed a bill that would eliminate all local non-discrimination protections for LGBT Arkansans — legislation Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has vowed to let become law without his signature. While citizens are imploring Hutchinson to change his mind and veto the bill once it reaches his desk, Arkansas’ business community has remained silent on the measure.
SB 202 would strip from local governments the power to protect LGBT citizens against employment, housing, public accommodations, as such protections go beyond existing state law. The text claims that this is to preserve “uniformity of law,” which it claims “benefits the businesses, organizations, and employers seeking to do business in the state and attracts new businesses, organizations, and employers to the state.”
This would mean protections like the ones passed last week in Eureka Springs — and the ones narrowly repealed by referendum in December in Fayetteville — would be illegal across the entire state and businesses would be free to discriminate.
Last year, then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a less-sweeping bill in Arizona that would have overridden local LGBT non-discrimination protections in cases where the business cited a religious reason for the discriminator. A coalition of business leaders — including the state’s chamber of commerce — opposed the measure and warned against sending “a message that our state is anything but an open and attractive place for visitors and the top talent that will be the cornerstone of our continued economic growth.”
But the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce has not followed suit. A spokesman for the group told ThinkProgress on Monday: “We have no position on that piece of legislation.” Wal-Mart, the state’s largest private employer (which voluntarily protects against anti-LGBT discrimination) did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about the bill.
Research about the impact of employment discrimination against LGBT people has shown that civil protections benefit local economies, as discriminatory policies can hinder the recruitment of qualified job candidates, instilling fear in employees, and creating a stressful work environment. One study projected a loss of $1.4 billion due to a lack of LGBT worker productivity. Moreover, the LGBT population’s buying power totals $1 trillion, and ostracizing its business prevents businesses from maximizing revenue.
In a statement on Friday, Hutchinson noted that “I recognize the desire to prevent burdensome regulations on businesses across the state. However, I am concerned about the loss of local control. For that reason, I am allowing the bill to become law without my signature.”
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the bill had reached the governor’s desk. The house and senate are still resolving a technical difference about when the bill goes into effect.