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The Arkansas Civil Rights Act (ACRA) was the first civil rights act in Arkansas covering discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, gender, or the presence of any sensory, physical, or mental disability. The passing of this act, Act 962 of 1993, was the culmination of the work of the Governors’ Task Force on Civil Rights, which was formed in 1991 by Governor Bill Clinton. The legislation was sponsored in the Arkansas Senate by Senator Bill Lewellen.
In the early 1990s, most Arkansans reportedly did not feel that it was necessary to have a civil rights bill. However, Arkansas was one of only a few states at the time lacking such a law. Consensus was that the bill was passed primarily for appearance’s sake, rather than actually producing an enforceable act, and opposition was limited.
The act covers nondiscrimination in the areas of employment, accommodations, property transactions, and credit and contractual transactions, as well as the right to vote and participate fully in the political process. In 1995, the legislative session added a new section covering housing discrimination. However, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) points out the act’s limitations, such as leaving alcoholism out of its definition of disability, exempting religious entities from employment aspects of the law, and failing to prohibit age discrimination.
One criticism of the legislation is that it lacks an enforcement mechanism, especially in the area of employment discrimination. Since Arkansas does not have a state enforcement mechanism for ACRA, one must hire a private attorney or bring a lawsuit, adding a potential burden. Since the act’s passage, there have been cases that highlighted its ineffectiveness in protecting civil rights, including the following: the defeat of comprehensive hate crime laws proposed in 1999, the repeal of a law creating the Arkansas Women’s Commission, and the failure of a bill that would have repealed part of a law allowing the state to check for citizenship before issuing driver’s licenses.
Although the act provides some civil rights protection, it does not offer the equivalent to federal civil rights laws, procedures remedies, or judicial review of actions. Bringing a claim of discrimination at the state level provides no legal advantage or relevant precedent because state judges refer to federal law for guidance in civil rights cases. Any intentional act of discrimination in violation of the act results in a civil action in a court of that jurisdiction. The process used by the Arkansas Supreme Court to interpret the ACRA is consistent with that of the United States Constitution. However, since the act’s passage, there are still questions related to the proper interpretation and applicability of the act.
For additional information:Act 962 of 1993. Arkansas General Assembly. http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/1993/R/Acts/962.pdf (accessed May 19, 2014).
Beiner, Theresa M. “An Overview of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993.” Arkansas Law Review 50 (1997): 165–219.
Mosley, Michael, Robert Beard, and Paul Charton. “Sixteen Years of Litigation under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act: Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going.” UALR Law Review 32 (Winter 2010): 173–213.
Bonnie Hatchett University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Last Updated 7/5/2017
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