Arkansas Governor Demands Changes To RFRA Bill
As I noted this morning, the battle over RFRA laws and how they impact the arguments over gay rights and same-sex marriage are extending beyond Indiana, particularly to Arkansas where the state legislature approved a bill similar to Indiana’s just yesterday and sent it to Governor Asa Hutchinson. Earlier today, after an uproar that included criticism some several of the biggest companies in the state, Governor Hutchinson announced that he would not sign the bill as it has been presented to him and called on the legislature to make changes to address the concerns expressed by the public:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas on Wednesday called on the state lawmakers to recall or amend legislation billed as a religious freedom measure to make it mirror a federal version passed in 1993.
Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican, said he understood how divided the state and the country was over same-sex marriage and religious freedom — his own son, Seth, had asked him to veto the bill, which critics say could allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians.
He said he was also considering using an executive order that would make “Arkansas a place of tolerance.”
“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “But these are not ordinary times.”
The legislation, which easily cleared the state House by lopsided margins, has created a political rift in the state, with Mark Stodola, the mayor of Little Rock, sending a letter to Governor Hutchinson this week urging him to veto the bill, saying it would have “a negative impact on our state’s image.”
Several businesses, including the state’s largest employer, Walmart, as well as the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Municipal League and other civic groups have come out against the legislation.
Mr. Hutchinson’s announcement comes a day after his counterpart in Indiana, Mike Pence, found him in a tenuous political predicament as he sought to satisfy both the business interests that have threatened to punish the state for its new religious freedom law and local conservatives who fought for the measure and do not want to see it diluted.
Quite obviously, the outcry over the Indiana law, combined with the statements from companies like Walmart that have a great degree of sway in the state influenced the Governor’s decision here. At the very least, it suggests that the momentum for legislation such as this in other parts of the country is likely to be blunted at least for the time being.