Fueled by conspiracies and misinformation, Arkansas’ 2021 legislative session saw unprecedented and massive attacks on abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, and our democracy. It was among the most regressive in our state’s history, and the 2023 state legislative session is poised to be as if not more regressive. As the 94th General Assembly begins its work, it’s critical that you join the fight to protect and advance the rights and freedoms of all Arkansans.
The ACLU of Arkansas takes an active role to support bills that advance civil liberties and oppose those that do not. Throughout the legislative session, we track key bills that will impact justice in courtrooms, schools, at the ballot box and beyond. Read more about our priorities in the 2023 regular session, and find out how you can get involved:
In 2023, we’re monitoring all legislation through the lens of racial equity. In her first day in office, we’ve already seen our new governor sign executive orders to ban “critical race theory” in public schools and erase the term “Latinx” from state documents. Deep-seated systemic racism and inequities that disadvantaged communities of color are still woven into the fabric of our institutions today — from education and housing to our criminal punishment system. Systemic racism permeates the starkly segregated world of housing. In our public schools, students of color are too often confined to racially isolated, underfunded, and inferior programs. Our criminal punishment system disproportionately targets and subjects people of color to police brutality, incarceration, and numerous collateral consequences, including criminalizing poverty. Black and brown Arkansans are disproportionately impacted by bad policy in every issue area, which hurts all Arkansans. We urge our lawmakers to consider the impact of any proposed legislation on communities of color – especially in the areas of education, voting rights, free speech, policing and criminal legal reform. And we call on them to take meaningful action to address racial inequities across the board.
Criminal Legal Reform
Arkansas’s criminal punishment system locks up too many people for far too long and is designed to disproportionately criminalize, incarcerate, and disenfranchise people of color and those with fewer resources. The state needlessly locks up thousands of people who haven't been convicted of a crime just because they can’t afford to pay bail. We will oppose any legislation that feeds the state’s addiction to incarceration or advances the state’s predatory, harmful, and unjust profit-seeking bail and fees, fines and costs systems. We call on our legislature to take meaningful action to increase access to substance use treatment and mental healthcare, affordable housing, jobs and education; and to eliminate the extreme laws and policies that drive extraordinarily long prison terms, particularly for inability to pay or on inequitable terms.
The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. We will advocate to ensure that a system of fair and open elections exists in which all qualified citizens — regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status or any other discriminatory reason — may cast a vote and have it accurately counted. We will oppose any legislation that seeks to disenfranchise eligible voters or makes it more difficult for voters to exercise their fundamental right to vote. The legislature should work to lift existing artificial barriers to the ballot.
Immigrant rights are under attack and we will work tirelessly to defeat xenophobic anti-immigrant legislation and to ensure greater protections for all Arkansans, regardless of where we were born. We will oppose unconstitutional legislation that treats immigrants like second class citizens and will forcefully advocate for our most vulnerable populations.
Everyone should have equal opportunity regardless of who they are or who they love. The ACLU of Arkansas supports comprehensive LGBTQ protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, medical care, and government services. The General Assembly should add protections against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation to the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. We will support legislation ensuring that LGBTQ Arkansans and gender nonconforming individuals can live openly, with dignity and respect, and oppose legislation targeting people or denying these basic human rights.
The right to control our reproductive health and decisions is essential to our equality, autonomy, economic self-sufficiency, and dignity. Arkansas already has a total ban on abortion access, but some are vowing to try to make our state even more extreme. We will oppose further legislative efforts to erode the constitutional right to abortion and we will be vigilant in protecting the privacy and ability of every Arkansan to determine what is right for them.
The rights to speak, access information, associate with others, protest, and assemble are critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment. In recent history, challenges to First Amendment rights have come in many forms, including government policing and trampling our free speech rights, law enforcement’s crack down on demonstrations through mass arrests, excessive use of force, curfews, and attempts to limit governmental transparency and accountability. We will oppose any legislation that seeks to silence, criminalize, or disenfranchise people exercising their free speech rights, or that impedes governmental transparency. And of course, the First Amendment guarantees religious liberty by requiring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion nor interfere with its free exercise. We will continue to watch for legislation that weaponizes religion and harms marginalized communities.
It’s our job to hold our elected representatives accountable on the issues that matter most to us, but many members of the Arkansas General Assembly rarely hear from their constituents. Sometimes hearing from a handful of concerned citizens will cause a senator or representative to pay attention to a particular issue and encourage them to vote the right way.
You do not need to be an expert on the issue to call or write your legislators. All you need to communicate is that you want the legislator to support or oppose a particular bill. When you call the in-session phone numbers, provide your name and address and ask whoever takes your call to leave a message, or “pink slip,” for your legislator and let them know that you favor or oppose something. Email them, contact them in your district, and let them know your issues of concern.
How to contact the 94th General Assembly
Contact information for the members of the Arkansas House and Senate, including email addresses and fax numbers, can be found by accessing the official website of the Arkansas General Assembly (https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Legislators/List). Not sure who to contact? Try the Find My Representative tool at: arkansashouse.org and Find My Senator tool at: senate.arkansas.gov.
Sign up for action alerts
Join the fight for civil rights and liberties in Arkansas by signing up for action alerts at: www.acluarkansas.org
The challenges facing democracy, civil liberties and civil rights are daunting, but together we can overcome them by working together and centering the experiences and perspectives of those most impacted. Thank you to you and to all of our supporters, volunteers, coalition partners and colleagues for your continued collaboration. We look forward to tackling these challenges together in the weeks ahead and thanks for sticking with us!