Indiana unveils changes to religion bill; Arkansas in flux

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Indiana Lawmakers Propose LGBT Protection Bill

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana lawmakers announced proposed changes Thursday to the state's new religious objections law aimed at quelling widespread criticism from businesses and other groups that have called the proposal anti-gay.

The revisions, which still require approval from the full Legislature and Republican Gov. Mike Pence, come as lawmakers in Arkansas scramble to revise that state's own religious objections legislation amid cries that it could permit discrimination.

The Indiana amendment prohibits service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service.

20 PHOTOS
Indiana religious freedom law
See Gallery
Indiana unveils changes to religion bill; Arkansas in flux
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 2: Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long speaks as House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) looks on during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the State Capitol April, 2, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The bill prompted a swift backlash nationwide with businesses and entertainers promising to boycott the state. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 2: Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma speaks as Senate President Pro Tem David Long (L) looks on during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the State Capitol April, 2, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The bill prompted a swift backlash nationwide with businesses and entertainers promising to boycott the state. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrator JD Ford speaks outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - March 30: City County Council Vice President John Barth introduces a resolution calling for the repeal or revision of the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Protestors have called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that criticssay can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators react to the City County Council passing a resolution calling on the state to repeal or revise it's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration act at the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Protestors have called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, left, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian C. Bosma R-Indianapolis, discuss their plans for clarifying the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 30, 2015. Republican legislative leaders in Indiana state say they are working on adding language to a new state law to make it clear that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, left, D-Anderson, and Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, call for the repeal of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 30, 2015. Republican legislative leaders say they are working on adding language to a new state law to make it clear that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard speaks about Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act outside the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The mayor called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that many feel can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrator JD Ford speaks outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle speaks about Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act outside the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Angie's List has threatened to pull out of a planned expantion in the state over the religious freedom law, that many feel can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, addresses a rally of supporters of a religious freedom bill at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Weson is the author of the bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on later in the day. The Republican-sponsored proposal would prohibit any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs and extends the definition of a "person" to include religious institutions, businesses and associations. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Pence has signed into law a religious objections bill that some convention organizers and business leaders have opposed amid concern it could allow discrimination against gay people. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

The measure exempts churches and affiliated schools, along with nonprofit religious organizations.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the agreement sends a "very strong statement" that the state will not tolerate discrimination.

The law "cannot be used to discriminate against anyone," he said.

Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long said they have the votes needed to pass the amendment and send it to Pence. A spokeswoman for the governor said he would not comment until the revised bill arrives on his desk.

Business leaders, many of whom had opposed the law or pledged to cancel travel to the state because of it, called the amendment a good first step. Indiana still does not include the LGBT community as a protected class in its civil-rights law, but Bosma said lawmakers met with representatives of the gay community and said they believed the new language addressed many of their concerns.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, now a senior vice president at drugmaker Eli Lilly, praised the agreement but noted that work needs to be done to repair the damage done to the state's image.

"The healing needs to begin right now," he said.

Democratic leaders said the proposed amendment does not go far enough and repeated their calls to repeal the law.

"I want to hear somebody say we made a grave mistake, and we caused the state tremendous embarrassment that will take months, if not years, to repair," House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said. "I want to hear one of the proponents `fess up, because the healing cannot begin until that happens. The solution is simple. Repeal this law."

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called on the Legislature to change the measure he had once said he would sign into law. But the time to make revisions was short. The bill becomes law five days after the governor receives it unless he vetoes the proposal. And even if he does issue a veto, lawmakers can override it with a simple majority.

A House committee endorsed a bill aimed at addressing his concerns, setting up a final vote for Thursday afternoon.

The bill would prohibit state and local government from infringing upon someone's religious beliefs without a compelling reason. Hutchinson asked lawmakers to recall the bill, amend it or pass a follow-up measure that would make the proposal more closely mirror a federal religious-freedom law.

The lawmaker behind the original proposal said he backed the changes.

"We're going to allow a person to believe what they want to believe without the state coming in and burdening that unless they've got a good reason to do so," Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger told the House Judiciary Committee.

Hutchinson was the second governor in as many days to give ground to opponents of the law. Since signing Indiana's law last week, Pence and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have been subjected to sharp criticism from around the country. It led Pence to seek changes to address concerns that the law would allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Hutchinson has faced pressure from the state's largest employers, including retail giant Wal-Mart. Businesses called the bill discriminatory and said it would hurt Arkansas' image. Hutchinson noted that his own son, Seth, had signed a petition urging him to veto the bill.

Conservative groups said they would still prefer that Hutchinson sign the original bill, but they grudgingly backed the compromise measure.

"The bill that's on the governor's desk is the Rolls Royce of religious freedom bills. It is a very good bill," said Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council. "The bill that just passed ... is a Cadillac."

The revised Arkansas measure only addresses actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals, and supporters said that would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals. Opponents said they believed the measure still needs explicit anti-discrimination language similar to Indiana's proposal.

The original bill "gave us a black eye. This bill ices it," said Rita Sklar, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. "We still need some Tylenol."

As originally passed, neither the Indiana nor Arkansas law specifically mentioned gays and lesbians. But opponents have voiced concern that the language contained in them could offer a legal defense to businesses and other institutions that refuse to serve gays, such as caterers, florists or photographers with religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Similar proposals have been introduced this year in more than a dozen states, patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, with some differences. Indiana and 19 other states have similar laws on the books.

More in the news:
NYC detective's video rant at Uber cab driver spurs transfer
Stanford offers free tuition for families making less than $125,000
AP Exclusive: Airbnb to Cuba in major US business expansion

Read Full Story

People are Reading