Arkansas Gov. Sends Religious Freedom Bill Back To Legislature

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a news conference in the Governor's Conference Room at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has decided not to sign the religious freedom bill the Republican legislature sent to his desk a day earlier.

Instead, Hutchinson said at a press conference on Wednesday, he would send the bill back to the state legislature to amend it so it better reflects the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Hutchinson’s move means that he’s not directly following the path of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) who signed a controversial religious freedom bill in his state and has been the target of nationwide criticism by opponents of the new law who argue that it essentially allows businesses to discriminate against gay people.

“The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not mirror the federal law,” Hutchinson said. “It doesn’t mirror it in a couple of ways, particularly allowing the First Amendment to be asserted in the private litigation between parties or reliance on the state law in those claims. Therefore I asked that changes be made in the legislation and I’ve asked that the leaders in the General Assembly to recall the bill so that it can be amended to reflect the terms of the federal legislative Freedom and Restoration Act.”

Hutchinson noted that his son signed a petition asking him to veto the bill.

“My son Seth, signed the petition asking me, Dad, the governor, to veto this bill,” Hutchinson said.

A number of national figures and businesses, including Walmart and Apple CEO Tim Cook as well as Hillary Clinton urged Hutchinson to veto the bill.

Hutchinson’s move means he doesn’t have to face the possibility that the state legislature can use its ability to override a veto of the bill. It also means Hutchinson won’t immediately face the massive backlash that Pence saw.

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