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Business leaders: SB1062 could damage Arizona for years to come

Protestors rally in front of the Arizona capitol one day after the passage of SB1062, which would allow businesses to deny service based on religious beliefs. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Protesters rally in front of the Arizona capitol one day after the passage of SB1062, which would allow businesses to deny service based on religious beliefs. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona business leaders voiced their strong opposition to the ‘’religious freedom’’ bill passed this week by the Legislature as Gov. Jan Brewer began considering whether to sign or veto the measure.

Most of the candidates running to replace Brewer in the November election also said they oppose SB1062.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., where she’s attending winter meetings of the National Governors Association and Republican Governors Association, Brewer said she will make a decision by next Friday, the deadline for her to sign or veto the bill. The Governor’s Office expects the Legislature to transmit the bill to her on Monday.

“It’s a very controversial piece of legislation. We know that. And we know that it’s failed in a lot of states across the country,” said Brewer, who rarely comments on legislation until she’s acted on it. “It’s very controversial, so I’ve got to get my hands around it.”

SB1062 would provide legal protection to people or companies that face discrimination lawsuits if they are acting upon their “sincerely held” religious beliefs. For example, in a widely cited case, it would provide legal immunity to a business that refused to provide services for a gay wedding if same-sex marriage violated their religious beliefs.

Supporters argue that SB1062 simply protects religious freedom and only expands on laws that are already on the books. Critics say it provides legal protection for discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Since taking office in 2009, Brewer has been a strong supporter of socially conservative legislation and the Center for Arizona Policy, which pushed SB1062. But she has also been close with the business community, much of which opposed the bill and urged her to veto it.

In a letter to Brewer, Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and James Lundy, chairman of the organization’s board of directors, said SB1062 would have “profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come.” Broome and Lundy praised Brewer for the work she and her Arizona Commerce Authority have done to strengthen Arizona’s economy, and worried that the controversial bill would be a setback.

GPEC expressed concerns that Arizona could be subjected to boycotts during next year’s Super Bowl, which will be held in Glendale. They also said four companies that GPEC and the Commerce Authority have been working with have contacted them to say they will not locate in Arizona if Brewer signs the legislation.

“As Governor of Arizona, your steady hand has guided us out of the recession we experienced during the last six years. You have shown political courage in the past to stand up to anti-business legislation such as this bill. We ask that you do this one more time and respectfully request that you veto Senate Bill 1062,” the letter read.

Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, also urged Brewer to veto the bill. Zylstra said SB1062 is unnecessary because Arizona businesses already have the right to refuse service to anyone. He said the bill will harm Arizona’s ability to recruit businesses and attract top talent to the state.

“When the Legislature passes bills like this, it creates a reputation that Arizona is judgmental and unwelcoming. This will haunt our business community for decades to come,” Zylstra wrote.

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce took a similar line. Chamber president and CEO Gonzalo de la Melena, Jr., and board Chairman Lisa Urias warned that SB1062 raises “serious constitutional questions,” prompt costly legal battles and damage Arizona’s reputation.

Lobbyist Marty Shultz, who serves on the boards of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Anti-Defamation League, warned that SB1062 would be bad for business and for tourism.

“It’s been putting us again in a negative light. So the passage of the bills would likely result in additional negative publicity for Arizona,” said Shultz, of the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. “I think it’s inconsistent, frankly, with the governor’s strong economic and jobs message. And therefore, it would not surprise me if she does veto it.”

Not all business groups took a stand on the bill. The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce said it had concerns with the legislation, but did not take a position, while the powerful Arizona Chamber of Commerce did not return calls.

As soon as the Legislature’s final vote on SB1062 ended, activists began a campaign urging people to contact the Governor’s Office and urge Brewer to veto the bill. About 250 people protested against the bill Friday at the Capitol.

Meanwhile, the Center for Arizona Policy urged supporters to ask Brewer to sign SB1062.

“As we witness hostility towards people of faith grow like never before, we must take this opportunity to speak up for religious liberty,” read a Center for Arizona Policy email on Friday. “One thing became undeniably clear as SB 1062 advanced through the Legislature: opponents were not interested in an honest debate about the bill’s actual provisions. Instead, they distorted and attacked the bill and its supporters at every turn.”

Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod said SB1062 simply clarifies existing Arizona law, which already prohibits government regulations from infringing on people’s religious beliefs, and that opponents are distorting its language and intent. She said Arizonans should be free to live and work in accordance with their faith, and disputed the arguments made by some in the business community.

“I would encourage businesses to look at it from an opposite viewpoint, that Arizona should be a state that respects and values diversity of religious beliefs,” Herrod said. “And we are a state that is open to enabling business owners and individuals to live out their faith.’”

Most Republican gubernatorial candidates came out in opposition to SB1062. Secretary of State Ken Bennett was one of several who said the bill was unneeded to protect rights that already have sufficient protections.

“SB 1062 is an unnecessary measure to protect a God-given right already assured by the Constitution,” Bennett said in a press statement. “I strongly support religious freedom, but divisive measures such as these distract us from the most important challenges facing Arizona — jobs and economic development.”

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said it troubles him that religious rights are being “trampled on.” But Smith, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, emphasized that he is also a member of a church that has experienced “severe persecution.”

“I firmly believe that discrimination or bigotry in any form is unacceptable. I am concerned that SB1062 carries the real potential for unintended legal consequences that could negatively impact our most basic rights, including the freedom of religion. This bill also could have a detrimental impact on Arizona’s business environment at a time when our economy is still fragile,” Smith said in a press statement.

Christine Jones, a former executive and attorney for the web-hosting company GoDaddy, agrees with the essence of SB1062 in that government should not force businesses and professionals to violate their deeply held religious beliefs. But she opposed the legislation.

“I strongly urge the state Legislature, and its leadership, to focus its time and energy on policy development that will help stimulate Arizona’s economy, lay a foundation for job creation, and improve Arizona’s reputation on the national and international stage. SB1062 will simply be used to caricature our state and hurt our economic growth and should, for that reason, be withdrawn,” Jones said in a press statement.

Frank Riggs, a former congressman from California, called SB1062 “an overreaching public policy and overreaching law.”

Riggs said he supports traditional marriage and noted that he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act while in Congress. And Riggs said he does not think business owners should be forced to violate their religious beliefs, such as in the publicized case of a New Mexico wedding photographer who was sued for refusing to take photos for a gay couple’s wedding, which SB1062 raised as an example during the debate over the bill.

But he said current protections in state and federal are already adequate, and noted that sexual orientation is not protected by Arizona’s anti-discrimination laws.

“We’re kind of in search of a solution for a potential legal dilemma that does not exist under Arizona law,” Riggs said.

The only GOP gubernatorial candidate to go on the record in support of the bill is Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrooke, who voted for SB1062 on the Senate floor.

Melvin said SB1062 is simply a matter of freedom of religion. If gay marriage is contrary to a businessperson’s religious beliefs, he or she shouldn’t be forced to have any involvement in a same-sex marriage, Melvin said.

If Brewer signs SB1062, Melvin said he doubted that it would have a negative effect on Arizona’s economy or ability to attract businesses.

“It really should not. We are very close to being one of the, if not the most business-friendly states in the nation,” Melvin said. “Why anyone would take a freedom of religion bill to harm our hard-fought business climate here is beyond me. And it’s not justified and it’s wrong. All we’re trying to do is protect freedom of religion. That’s all.”

The only major candidate who didn’t take a position on the bill was state Treasurer Doug Ducey. Herrod endorsed Ducey and served on a policy advisory group for his exploratory committee.

Ducey said he’s seen a few articles about SB1062, but hasn’t had a chance yet to read the bill and learn its specific details.

“Governor Brewer is a smart and passionate leader and even she said the issues surrounding SB1062 are complex and is taking the entire week to review the details,” Ducey told the Arizona Capitol Times. “What I do know is I’ll approach this as both a man of faith and a businessman, and firmly believe that neither individuals nor businesses should be discriminated against for their religious beliefs or any other reasons.”

-Reporter Luige Del Puerto and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this article.

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