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Another Arkansas city mulls defying Act 137 | News

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Another Arkansas city mulls defying Act 137

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (KTHV) - The push and pull continues between cites and state government over anti-discrimination laws with the next skirmish set to come in Hot Springs.

On Tuesday, the city board put an anti-discrimination ordinance on the agenda for debate and a vote at next week's regular meeting.

The new ordinance mirrors one that was passed by Little Rock last week.

It forbids discrimination against gays and lesbians by the city and for businesses and vendors that do business with the city.

Problem is the new ordinance flouts the new state law passed this past legislative session that was supposed to prevent cities and towns from passing ordinances like this.

Act 137 says cities and towns can't add classifications that don't exist in state law.

The state's civil rights statute don't specify sexual orientation or gender identity, but attorneys for Little Rock and now Hot Springs - say they have a loophole.

"There was no emergency clause put into place," said Dir. Becca Clark, the board member who asked the Hot Springs city attorney to prepare the ordinance. "Technically the law does not take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislature"

For community leaders behind the ordinance, it's a larger issue.

"Selecting a particular class of people and saying it's okay to discriminate against them - that's a civil rights issue," said the Rev. CB Baker, rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Hot Springs. "From a theological perspective, I have to say that's not alright."

Clark says she is acting in response to what she heard from constituents after the legislature passed Act 137.

"The actions of the legislature this session put an impetus and a timeline on it," she said. "It's the right thing to do. It's the right thing for Hot Springs. It's a good thing to do for a lot of people who are currently discriminated against."

But Hot Springs Mayor Ruth Carney is among those questioning why a new law has to be put in place.

"If there was an issue, than we would make an ordinance," she said, pointing to a lack of evidence that gays have been discriminated against by the city. "When there are no issues I don't understand the reason for an ordinance."

Carney calls Hot Springs an open and welcoming city already and says there are already protections against discrimination – including for members of the LGBT community. She is also troubled by ordinances that could possibly dictate policies on businesses in the city.

"I believe we as a city can adopt ordinances for our hiring and firing. We can say 'this is what we do – our policy," she said. "But when we dictate to private businesses what their policy should be I think that's really overstepping government control."