The Arkansas Senate has passed a bill to end affirmative action by state and local agencies.
Despite warnings that the decision would jeopardize various programs, including support for historically Black colleges and health initiatives, the majority-Republican Senate advanced the legislation Thursday by a vote of 18 to 12, according to The Associated Press.
The measure outlaws preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. State Sen. Dan Sullivan, a white Republican, claimed that his plan, which allows state agencies two years to comply, aims to combat discrimination.
Public schools and higher education facilities would also be subject to the legislation.
“If we are ever going to solve discrimination in the state,” Sullivan contended, according to AP, “it will not be by further discrimination.”
However, opponents of the bill claimed it could jeopardize several local and state initiatives if passed. In addition to health programs and those for minorities and women entrepreneurs, Democratic state Sen. Linda Chesterfield worries it could also impact efforts and enterprises that categorize disabled veterans as a specific group.
“The ramifications of this bill are great, especially for ethnic minorities, for women, and for disabled veterans,” Chesterfield said, according to AP. “Because you’re saying in essence there cannot be programs that address the specific needs of those individuals.”
The measure advanced as GOP governors and lawmakers across the nation seek tighter controls on diversity initiatives and racial studies curricula, including this week’s signing by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of a bill that seals into law her executive order banning critical race theory teachings in public schools.
Huckabee Sanders told reporters she was monitoring Sullivan’s bill but declined to acknowledge whether or not she supports it, saying her office would “see what the final product looks like” and comment as it goes through the majority-GOP House.
The Arkansas move also comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to admissions policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard, which use race as one of many criteria to ensure a diverse student population.
Affirmative action is a collection of policies intended to end discrimination against applicants, address the effects of such discrimination in the past and stop such discrimination in the future.
Six Republicans and six Democrats — including all of the Senate’s Black and female members — opposed the measure in Arkansas.
Democratic state Sen. Clarke Tucker claimed that the bill’s current form would also jeopardize the state-run Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a Black history museum in downtown Little Rock. He said the museum would “cease to exist as it is right now,” though it may not have to shut its doors completely.
Sullivan and Tim Griffin, Arkansas’ Republican attorney general, said they did not think the ban would affect museums. The Associated Press reported the bill would not invalidate any current court orders, consent decrees or affect procedures necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for federal funds.
“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, according to AP. “In fact, this bill will bring our state in line with constitutional principles that I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to reiterate soon.”
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