There’s no sugarcoating it: the 2021 legislative session was a catastrophe for civil and human rights in Arkansas.
From new restrictions on voting rights to hateful attacks on trans youth, extremist politicians in the General Assembly sank to new and shameful lows, while failing to address the urgent challenges facing everyday Arkansans.
The 93rd General Assembly will go down in history for its extremism and for its callous disregard for human rights and dignity. But amid this parade of horribles, there were also incredible moments of courage and heroism, as Arkansans from every walk of life spoke out in defense of our shared values and our fundamental rights.
Together we brought national attention to the legislature’s shameful dereliction of duty and sent a strong message that discrimination and hate have no place in our state.
Now the fight continues in communities, in the courts, and at the ballot box to hold these politicians accountable for their actions and defend the fundamental rights of everyone who calls Arkansas home.
Here’s a roundup of what happened during the session, and what’s next in this fight.
Harmful Anti-Voter Bills
Legislators across the country have launched a nationwide assault on voting access, and Arkansas was no exception. Arkansas politicians tightened the state’s already harmful photo ID requirement, while shortening the deadline to return absentee ballots and banning people from providing food and water to people waiting in line to vote. Other bills passed this session would strip power from nonpartisan election officials and give it to partisan politicians.
What’s next: These anti-voter bills were fueled by Trump’s lies about voter fraud and unprecedented attempt to overturn the election result. Now more than ever, it’s important for everyone to speak out against voter suppression, including urging Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The ACLU of Arkansas will continue our fight for voters’ rights, and we are already working with allies concerning redistricting and upcoming elections.
Attacks on LGBTQ Arkansans and Trans Youth
The General Assembly’s targeting of trans youth has already had a devastating impact on families across the state. Legislators overrode the Governor’s veto of a bill banning trans youth from receiving gender affirming care, and passed not one but two bills prohibiting trans students from participating in school sports.
Lawmakers also sent to the November 2022 ballot a radical amendment to the Constitution that would subject Arkansans to even more harmful forms of discrimination. The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment would be among the most extreme of its kind in the country, giving people a basis to challenge and exempt themselves from virtually any state law.
What’s next: The ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas are preparing a lawsuit to challenge and block the transgender health care ban before it takes effect.
Discriminating against trans people for who they are isn’t just wrong, it’s also illegal – so we will be staying vigilant when it comes to the enforcement of these laws, and on high alert for attempts to discriminate against LGBTQ and other Arkansans. These bills also reinforce the importance for Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would provide comprehensive nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people across the country.
This year was also a record year for attacks on reproductive freedom, with Arkansas politicians joining extremist legislators in a race to challenge the fundamental right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade.
Senate Bill 6, signed into law in March, seeks to impose a near total ban on abortion in Arkansas.
What’s next: The ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas are planning a lawsuit to challenge the Arkansas’s latest abortion ban. Abortion is legal in all 50 states, including Arkansas, and we’ll fight as long as it takes to keep it that way.
Racial Justice and Criminalization of Poverty
While legislators were rushing to enact ever more divisive and cruel policies, they ignored pressing issues impacting thousands of vulnerable Arkansans.
Arkansas lawmakers failed to enact the protections tenants need and deserve, to reform policing, or to overhaul the harmful criminalization of poverty that fuels mass incarceration and wastes taxpayer money.
What’s next: All of us need to stay in the fight to advance racial justice and end the criminalization of poverty. We are working with allies concerning strategies to fight back on the unjust nature of the criminal punishment system and to work toward true racial equality and inclusion in Arkansas.
The legislature has attacked our most fundamental rights this session, voting to control our and our children’s bodies, religion, and education while orchestrating a power grab of all of our other individual rights.
We fought for you through the session and will keep fighting until all of our rights are intact and respected. Thank you for sticking with us.