PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s staff worked with proponents of a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays before the legislation was introduced in January, according to emails released by her office.
The meetings between Brewer’s legal counsel and policy director came as the Center for Arizona Policy tried to make changes to a bill that was vetoed last year to make it more palatable to the governor. As Senate Bill 1062 made its way through the Legislature last month, it drew fierce opposition from Democrats, gays, civil rights activists and later the business community.
Brewer vetoed the legislation on Feb. 26. In a brief statement, she said the bill “could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.” She also said the bill was broadly worded and could result in unintended negative consequences.
Brewer’s veto came after companies including Apple Inc. and American Airlines an d even national Republicans including Sen. John McCain urged her to veto the bill, saying it would hurt the state and could alienate businesses looking to expand there.
Emails released by the governor’s office show her staff met with representatives of the Center for Arizona Policy. Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said such talks are routine and never come with a promise the governor will support the final product.
Her staff was most concerned about a provision in last year’s legislation that allowed someone to sue before their religious rights were affected and for a “likely” burden on those rights. That provision was removed this year.
Center for Arizona Policy president Cathi Herrod blamed the bill’s fate on opponents who misrepresented what it does.
“I believe the veto was politics at its worst,” Herrod said Monday, “The veto was of a bill that did not exist and the 1062 opponents were able to make the bill about something it was not.”
She acknowledged she worked with Brewer’s staff on the bill.
“The governor’s officer raised several questions about the language, we had thorough discussions about the language and changes were made to the language based on those discussions,” she said.
The bill would have shielded businesses whose owners cite sincerely held religious beliefs from being sued for denying service to gays. It would have allowed any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.
Opponents called it a license to discriminate against gays or any other group that might draw a religious objection.
Herrod’s group and supporters in the Legislature said the bill was a clarification of the state’s existing religious freedom law and would not open the door to discrimination. They argued the law was needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts.
Herrod’s group wields great power among Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature. The social conservative group backs conservative Christian legislation and is opposed to gay marriage and abortion.
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