LITTLE ROCK — The sponsor of a new state law taking effect Wednesday says the law nullifies city and county ordinances around the state that seek to provide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but city and county officials disagree.

LITTLE ROCK — The sponsor of a new state law taking effect Wednesday says the law nullifies city and county ordinances around the state that seek to provide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but city and county officials disagree.

Act 137 of this year, which the Arkansas Legislature approved in February and Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed to become law without his signature, prohibits a city or county from adopting or enforcing an ordinance that creates a protected class or prohibits discrimination on any basis not already in state law. Arkansas’ civil-rights law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes.

Little Rock, North Little Rock, Pulaski County, Conway, Marvell, Eureka Springs and Hot Springs have adopted ordinances that offer varying levels of protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The Fayetteville City Council adopted an anti-discrimination ordinance last year that later was repealed by voters, but that city is set to vote on a similar proposed ordinance Sept. 8.

"I think their ordinances are null and void. I think that’s very clear," Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, who sponsored Act 137, said Tuesday.

Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter said he believes Act 137 has no effect on the city’s ordinance, approved in April, barring discrimination in city hiring, city programs and city contracts — including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"They’re not in conflict," he said. "There’s nothing mentioned in the city’s ordinance that’s not already protected under state law."

Carpenter acknowledged that sexual orientation and gender identity are not mentioned in the state’s civil-rights law, but he said, "That’s not what (Act 137) says. It says, ‘state law.’"

In an opinion he provided to the Little Rock City Council in April, Carpenter said Arkansas has a state law on school bullying that includes bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the Arkansas Domestic Peace Act requires shelters to have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual preference, among other state laws protecting LGBT people.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said other lawyers and a law professor have supported Carpenter’s interpretation that Act 137 does not bar cities and counties from extending protections to LGBT people.

Act 137 "says you can’t create an ordinance that would in any way create a protected class that has not been already recognized in state law. Well, it’s been recognized in state law," Stodola said.

Hester said Carpenter’s interpretation is a stretch.

"Every time we write a law, virtually, you put the definitions of words in that law. Just because it’s defined one way in one law doesn’t mean it automatically is defined that way in every law, and for that attorney to say that I think it laughable," he said.

Hester said Act 137 does not limit what cities can have in their hiring policies, but he said it does bar them from imposing those policies on private businesses with city contracts, as Little Rock’s ordinance seeks to do.

"The city cannot create hiring policies outside of their realm. They can’t tell the local gas station or fast food restaurant or retail business or construction company how they’re going to operate their hiring practices," he said.

Carpenter said, "The city gets to decide what constitutes a responsible bidder under state law. We think a responsible bidder is one who does not discriminate."

The Hot Springs Board of Directors approved an ordinance similar to Little Rock’s in May. Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, asked Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for an opinion on whether Act 137 prohibits a city or county from enforcing an ordinance that conflicts with the act but was passed before the act took effect, and Rutledge said in a July 1 opinion that it does.

But Hot Springs City Attorney Brian Albright said Tuesday that Gates "didn’t ask the question as to whether or not our ordinance was in conflict with 137." Albright said he advised the city board in July that the groups protected in the ordinance are already protected in various state laws, so in his opinion the ordinance does not conflict with the act.

Eureka Springs has had an anti-discrimination ordinance covering city hiring practices and businesses with city contracts since 2006. In May, voters in the city approved a new ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations — a measure modeled after the one the Fayetteville City Council approved and voters later repealed.

The ordinance also prohibited discrimination based on "socioeconomic status," but last week the Eureka Springs City Council voted to remove that phrase in the hope of making the ordinance more likely to survive a court challenge.

Eureka Springs Alderman James DeVito said Tuesday, "We knew full well going into this that this could be a point of contention with the state. We feel that we have rights and responsibilities for home rule, and our mandate from the people is provide for the health, welfare and safety of our constituents — and that’s exactly what we’re doing."

Hester said cities that have passed anti-discrimination ordinances since the passage of Act 137 are "just trying to make a symbolic gesture."

"I can assure you that a few cities may try to keep them on the books, but you will not see a city try to enforce this," he said.

Several city and county officials said Tuesday they did not expect to need to enforce the ordinances. Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde said he doubted any business would challenge the county’s anti-discrimination ordinance, which is similar to Little Rock’s, by declaring that it wanted to discriminate.

"We think it’s a non-starter," he said.