Arizona Gov. Brewer Mulls Signing Religious Protection Act

Saturday, 22 Feb 2014 12:58 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says she will closely review a bill that would let business owners cite their religious beliefs as legal justification for refusing service to same-sex couples and others.

The legislation was approved Thursday with overwhelming Republican support, reports The Arizona Republic.

Brewer, a Republican, told CNN Friday she will review the bill carefully, but didn't reveal her opinion of the legislation.

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"I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don't work with," Brewer commented to CNN in Washington, DC, where she is attending a governors' conference. "But I don't know that it needs to be statutory. In my life and in my businesses, if I don't want to do business or if I don't want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I'm not interested. That's America. That's freedom."

The governor's advisers said she will meet with lawmakers, the business community, and others as she weighs whether to sign the bill, which gay rights activists say will legally permit discrimination.

"In this instance, you have a bill that had a party-line vote," an unnamed adviser told The Republic. "It puts her in a difficult spot.”

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Brewer does not plan to return to Arizona until Tuesday, but people on both sides of the issue took to Twitter  to push her to act.

Social conservatives call the bill a matter of religious freedom, reports the Republic, and are urging Brewer to sign the bill so people and businesses will not be forced to act against their religious beliefs and offer services to homosexuals or others with whom they disagree.

“In America, people should be free to live and work according to their faith, and the government shouldn’t be able to tell us we can’t do that,” Joseph E. La Rue, the legal counsel at Scottsdale-based religious-liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom, told The New York Times. “Faith shouldn’t be something we have to leave inside our house.”

LaRue's group and the Center for Arizona Policy, described as one of the state legislature's top lobbies, drafted the bill.

Some Arizona business leaders voiced strong opposition to the religious freedom bill, as did most of the candidates to replace Brewer in the November election, reports The Arizona Capitol Times.

Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and James Lundy, who chairs the organization's board of directors, sent a letter to Brewer Friday begging her to veto the bill, saying it would have “profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come," reports the Capitol Times.

They praised Brewer for the work she and the Arizona Commerce Authority have done strengthening the state's economy, but said the controversial bill will represent a setback.

The council also warned that the bill could cause problems by alienating businesses looking to relocate and hurt tourism as the state readies for next year's Super Bowl.

Brewer is religious and typically follows the party vote on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, but few people are speculating how she'll decide on the new legislation.

But even if she follows the party on the bill, she may face repercussions from some Republicans who have been against her since she expanded Medicaid last year.

Arizona is the first state to pass a broad right-to-refuse-service bill, but Brewer in 2001 rejected similar legislation, State Bill 1070, which would have barred the state from taking action against a person's professional license based on religion. That bill was also passed along Republican party lines.

If Brewer neither signs or vetoes the bill, it will still become law without her signature. But she has only once allowed a bill to go through without signing it, so watchers expect her to act.

But Republican consultant Chris Baker denied Brewer is in a politically precarious position.
"She is a lame duck for all intents and purposes, and unlike (SB) 1070, which really was for her a political decision, she’s not under that type of pressure,” Baker said. “For the most part, she’s free to do what she thinks is in the state’s best interest.”

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