FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ House speakers from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri say their states should have laws targeting hate crimes.
Arkansas House Speaker Shane Broadway, D-Bryant, says he didn't use to think such laws were needed.
``I opposed this type of legislation until a kid in my hometown was taken outside the store he was working, beaten and left for dead just because he was black,'' Broadway told a gathering of high school seniors Friday at the Fulbright School of Public Affairs.
Anti-hate crime laws increase penalties for some crimes if a prosecutor can show that the action stemmed from prejudice against race, religious affiliation, national origin, sexual orientation or other characteristic of the victim.
Broadway was joined on the panel by Oklahoma House Speaker Larry E. Adair, D-Stilwell, and Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, House speaker in Missouri. They said the most determined opposition to hate-crimes laws comes from Christian conservatives who oppose any added protection for gay people.
``I cannot understand why you would not want to stop the hurting of other people,'' Kreider said. ``People are people.''
Adair, who said he is Cherokee, said he supported hate-crime legislation in his state partly because of violence against American Indians.
A proposed hate-crime bill failed in the Arkansas Legislature this year. What Adair called a ``watered-down'' version passed in Oklahoma this year, while Missouri has a hate-crime law on the books.
The Missouri law was passed in 1998, Kreider said, but ``that was when Democrats controlled both houses.''
``I don't think we could get a hate-crimes bill through the Legislature today with the Republican control of the Senate,'' he said.
Blacks, American Indians in Oklahoma, Hispanics and the handicapped would benefit most from the legislation, the speakers said, although Kreider took exception to the word ``benefit'' in an interview after the discussion.
``I don't see how the right to not get beaten up is a 'benefit,''' Kreider said. ``It's a Christian value.''
Social conservatives were out front among groups opposing the Arkansas bill, but they were not alone, according to Jerry Cox of Little Rock, president of the Family Council, a conservative lobby based in Little Rock. Interviewed by telephone later Friday, Cox said there were three main objections to the Arkansas bill.
``Somebody was going to have to do some thought policing,'' he said. ``The government was going to have to decide on what the perpetrator was intending, what he was thinking, instead of what he did.
``The idea is basically discriminatory. Why doesn't everybody deserve equal protection from violence? Why favor some groups more than others?''
And, he said, ``sexual orientation is mentioned in the bill as one of the protected classes. This is not in any civil rights law in Arkansas, to my knowledge. It breaks new ground and makes homosexuals a recognized group.''