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Calls multiply for veto of ‘religious freedom’ bill from GOP, business groups

Listen - Many People Talking Demanding AttentionGov. Jan Brewer returns to work Tuesday to face a rising chorus of Republican and business voices urging her to quickly quash SB1062.

Although he was one of 17 Republican senators who voted for the bill last week, Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, told Capitol Media Services Sunday he now thinks the legislation, billed as providing protections for those of faith, is a bad idea.

“I screwed up,” he told Capitol Media Services. “I’m trying to make it right.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, joined the fray on Sunday in a posting on his Twitter page urging Brewer to veto the measure that passed both chambers of the Legislature with only Republican votes.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also said Sunday Brewer should kill the bill as bad for business.

And Kristin Jarnagin, vice president of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, said just the fact that the Legislature approved the measure has resulted in cancelled trips.

“We have already lost untold amounts of tax dollars due to the negative perception that this legislation attaches to our state’s image, and the bill hasn’t even been signed into law yet,” she said. Her organization wants Brewer to deep-six the measure “so that we can put this behind us swiftly and continue the business of welcoming visitors to Arizona.”

The fallout comes as Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy and the architect of the legislation, hopes to convince Brewer to ignore all the protests, including much of that from within her own Republican Party. Herrod has gone on the offensive, lashing out at foes who she says “have hijacked this discussion through lies, personal attacks and irresponsible reporting.”

“Simply put, the fear-mongering from opponents is unrelated to the language of the bill, and proves that hostility towards people of faith is very real,” she said in an email to supporters.

But Herrod is finding the ground beneath her is giving way: Even state Treasurer Doug Ducey, her chosen candidate for governor, said he would veto the measure, though he said he would try to bring all sides together to find some compromise.

And Pierce, who agreed to go along with the GOP tide last week, now thinks that was a mistake for all of them.

“I would be on board to get it repealed,” he said.

Existing laws allow businesses to claim exemption from a state statute or regulation because of “sincerely held” religious beliefs. SB1062 would extend that to situations where a business owner is being sued civilly by someone denied service.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, acknowledged during last week’s debate that this would permit a business to turn away gays. Farnsworth said, though, they already can do that now, as Arizona has no laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Hamer said that underscores his point that the measure may be trying to solve a problem that does not exist for Arizona businesses.

“The bigger issue here is it would send a signal that Arizona is not a place that is as welcoming as it really is for all people,” he said. And Hamer said its passage could halt the headway the state has made in job creation.
Herrod, however, said the legislation is needed because of “the increasing use of government to threaten and punish its own citizens.”

But Jarnagin said the governor needs to see the legislation from a different perspective.
“We know of several large hotel projects and international events that were in the final stages of selecting Arizona,” she said. “Now, those potential job creators that would have injected millions into our economy are in jeopardy, if not already lost.”

Jarnagin said she should not have to be seeking a veto.
“We literally begged lawmakers to consider the unintended consequences not only on our tourism industry but on our ability to attract new businesses and jobs to our state,” she said. “Unfortunately, those please fell on deaf ears.”

Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder said late Sunday he could not comment on how quickly his boss will act on the measure. She has until Feb. 28 to decide what to do.

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