Governor Hutchinson signs new 'Religious Freedom' bill into law
A compromise religious freedom bill received a veto-proof majority in the House Thursday with the bill being signed into law.
The House voted 76-17, with two present on Senate Bill 975, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock. After passing the Senate on Wednesday, the bill was approved Thursday morning in the House Judiciary Committee, setting the stage for the debate in the House this afternoon.
According to the bill, which is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government must show a compelling interest before a person’s religious beliefs can be infringed.
“A government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except that a government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest,” the bill noted. “A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government.”
Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, said the bill was an Arkansas version of the federal law. The federal law was passed in 1993 by Congress and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.
Earlier in the day, Ballinger said the bill received strong support at the time in Congress and has been expanded to other states.
Views on the bill were mixed during the House debate.
Rep. Camille Bennett, D-Lonoke, said she was appreciative of the work done by lawmakers since the announcement Wednesday by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson asked legislators to either recall or address the bill, making it more closely aligned with the federal law.
However, Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, said he thought the bill was the wrong approach. Miller said “the decision on this should be made on the second floor (referring to the Governor’s office.)”
Hutchinson signed SB 975 into law.
With its passage and the governor signing it into law, the fate of HB 1228 was all that remained. HB 1228, the original RFRA measure that stirred the controversy and created the national media attention in Arkansas late last week and all this week.
The House went back into session after the bill signing and voted to recall the measure, where it will not be acted upon and will languish.
House members finished their additional calendar business hours after the Senate completed its work, thus bringing the session to adjournment for 30 days.
Legislators will recess for a month and return to sine die, or officially end the session, on May 8.
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