Governor Steve Beshear Refuses “Religious Freedom Act”

Monday, March 25th, 2013

When state lawmakers convene at noon on Monday, they’ll have just one more day after that to wrap up their business before week’s end. Negotiations over public pension reform, military overseas voting and industrial hemp are rumored and reported to have been going on since legislators packed up to head home for a 10-day recess for the governor to issue any vetoes.

On Friday afternoon, Governor Steve Beshear pulled out his veto pen on a controversial “religious freedom” measure, House Bill 279. The bill passed the state House on a vote of 82 to seven with 11 members not voting on March 1st. It was initiated by conservative Nicholasville Democrat Bob Damron, a former member of House leadership. Legislative leaders from both parties in the lower chamber supported it, while 7 democrats from Louisville and Lexington cast dissenting votes. The state Senate overwhelmingly endorsed House Bill 279 on March 7th with 6 democrats voting ‘no.’ It was sent to the governor on March 11th.

Friday, the governor issued his objection declaring that “I value and cherish our rights to religious freedom and I appreciate the good intentions of House Bill 279 and the members of the General Assembly who supported this bill to protect our constitutional rights to practice our religion. However, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights. As written, the bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation. I have heard from many organizations and government entities that share those same concerns. Therefore, after giving this measure thoughtful analysis and consideration, today I vetoed the bill.”

The full text of the governor’s position and action can be read here.

Groups ranging from gay rights advocates to quasi-governmental agencies (Kentucky Association of Counties, Ky. League of Cities and Ky. County Judge/Executive Association) and civil rights organizations staunchly denounced the measure and urged the governor to veto it. Earlier this week, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer penned his arguments for why it shouldn’t become law.

Opposition forces to House Bill 279 say civil rights protections and laws could be disregarded if a person believes those laws substantially burden sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Senate Republican majority floor leader Damon Thayer Tweeted his disappointment with Governor Beshear’s action and urged House Democrats to override it so the Senate can do the same. He continued: “I look forward to making the motion.” The Senate President’s communications director Lourdes Baez Schrader said that “the Senate is prepared to override the veto of HB279 if and when the Speaker moves to do so.” She added, “As a House bill, that chamber must act on the bill first.”

Our public radio partner WFPL has comment from bill sponsor Bob Damron and Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation in this report,

We’ll have coverage of lawmakers’ actions on this bill and more when they convene Monday. Watch action as it happens live online at ket.org/legislature or on our Kentucky Channel.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for constant updates and tune in Monday night at 11pm ET on KET for a recap of the day’s events.

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