NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) – Arkansas is one of three states in the country to not have hate crime legislation and some lawmakers are working to change that.

If this hate crime bill becomes a law, it would mean harsher punishment for those who commit a crime against someone motivated by bias.

State Representative David Whitaker is a co-sponsor of the bill. He said in the last several years there’s been an increase in bias motivated crimes and hate groups and it should not be tolerated.

If a victim is targeted because of any of these factors; their race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation to name a few, it would be considered a hate crime.

“I think it’s time we send a message to all of Arkansas that we know there is a problem out there and we are willing to try and do whatever we can do to make life better and safer for our citizens,” said Whitaker.

The proposal would allow prosecutors to seek up to 20-percent more jail time for offenders.

The bill is facing some opposition which he believes is based on misinformation. Whitaker said first and foremost, this bill does not create a new stand-alone crime. It enhances or adds more jail time for an offense that falls under a hate crime.

Whitaker said there’s also concern that this is an attempt to police thought and freedom of expression.

“Just thinking bad things about people is not criminalized by this bill. It’s if you’re motivated by those biases to commit a violent crime against another,” said Whitaker.

Whitaker said the additional sentencing time is enough to help discourage the crime from happening but caps it at 20-percent to reduce the risk of judges pilling on jail time. So, he believes the sentencing is fair.

Whitaker is hopeful the hate crime bill will pass and said with the recent events in our country and rise in hate groups, he has seen a shift and more lawmakers getting behind this bill.

He also points to the fact that there are democrats and republican co-sponsoring it as well. Which will help. If it fails this legislative session, he and other supporters plan to bring it forward in future sessions until it becomes law in Arkansas.