Arkansas Civil Rights

Protesters in the Street
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vetoed a bill that would have criminalized mass picketing, saying it would restrict free speech.

Hutchinson vetoed the bill on Thursday. It had been passed by both chambers of the Arkansas Legislature.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Trent Garner, defines mass picketing as people assembling for demonstrations at or near a business, school or private facility.

An Arkansas lawmaker has dropped a "bathroom bill" that had faced opposition from the state's Republican governor and tourism groups, and says she wants the issue studied for the future.

Republican Sen. Linda Collins-Smith on Wednesday withdrew her proposal to require every restroom or changing facility accessible by multiple people at the same time in a government building be designated for use by members of only one sex. The proposal had not advanced past a Senate committee and the Legislature is entering the final days of this year's session.

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The Arkansas House of Representatives voted Friday to give final legislative approval to a bill that ends the official recognition of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day. The House passed SB519 on a 66-11 vote, with five members voting present and 18 not voting.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and State Senator David Wallace (R-Leachville) presenting the MLK/Lee Day bill in committee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

After several years and multiple failed attempts, a renewed effort to remove Arkansas’s celebration of Robert E. Lee from the state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. is headed for a final vote. An Arkansas House committee advanced the Senate-approved bill Tuesday evening on a voice vote. Arkansas is one of three states to mark King and Lee on the same day.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and State Senator David Wallace (R-Leachville) presenting the MLK/Lee Day bill in committee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Martin Luther King Jr. Day would stand alone, separated from Arkansas’s dual observance with Robert E. Lee, under a proposal advanced by a Senate committee. On a voice vote Thursday, legislation passed to move the observance of Lee to October. Governor Asa Hutchinson led the cause to disjoin the Civil Rights leader and Confederate general.

“The fact is celebrating Martin Luther King on the same day as a Confederate general gives Arkansas a sense that you make a choice and this choice diminishes the contributions of Dr. King,” Hutchinson told committee members.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is endorsing a proposal to end the dual recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee on the same day each year.

He took to the lectern Wednesday to say that, as Americans celebrate the slain Civil Rights icon, residents of the state are presented with a choice.

“That choice that is there, it divides us as Arkansans and as a nation,” Hutchinson said.

Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore (file photo).
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

The tumult in the Little Rock School District, which is under state control, continues in the new year with plans to close or re-purpose four schools. KUAR’s Jacob Kauffman spoke with Superintendent Mike Poore about the future of the district and the legitimacy of state control.

Topics also include: a special election to continue a tax, the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, the impact to charter schools in the district, and the return of local control.

Last week Little Rock School District  Superintendent, Michael Poore, announced four school closings. Meanwhile, Dr. Anika Whitfield of the community group Save Our Schools thinks the outcry would be louder if people didn't fear their job or school would be the next in line for cuts.

“Some of the teachers and some of the parents at other schools....I believe it’s not that they don’t necessarily care, I sense a fear of 'if we speak up or speak out it could be our school next.'”

Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Will this be the year Arkansas will end the official recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee on the same day? Gov. Asa Hutchinson hopes it is, as do Democratic lawmakers. Several local and state leaders used the national MLK holiday on Monday to call for a change.

Following the Little Rock NAACP’s annual MLK “Marade,” or March/Parade to the State Capitol, the organization took to the building’s rotunda to honor King and remind people of work still left to be done to repair the damage of systemic racism and injustice in society.

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