Arkansas lawmakers pass revised religious objections bill

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, the Arkansas lawmaker behind the state's original religious freedom proposal, enters a committee room with a reworked bill before a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, April 2, 2015.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, the Arkansas lawmaker behind the state's original religious freedom proposal, enters a committee room with a reworked bill before a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, April 2, 2015. Danny Johnston, AP

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, the Arkansas lawmaker behind the state's original religious freedom proposal, enters a committee room with a reworked bill before a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, April 2, 2015. Danny Johnston, AP

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, the Arkansas lawmaker behind the state’s original religious freedom proposal, enters a committee room with a reworked bill before a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, April 2, 2015.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a revised religious objections measure after Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked for changes in the wake of mounting criticism that a previous bill endorsed discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The House voted 76-17 to pass the new bill, which prohibits state and local government from infringing on someone’s religious beliefs without proving a compelling interest. The legislation now heads to Hutchinson, and his office says he plans to sign it into law.

The measure is similar to a bill sent to the governor earlier this week, but Hutchinson said he wanted it revised to more closely mirror a 1993 federal law. Supporters of the compromise bill say it addresses concerns that the original proposal was discriminatory.

Earlier in the day, Indiana lawmakers announced proposed changes to their state’s new religious objections law. The revisions still require approval from the full Legislature and Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

The lawmaker behind the original Arkansas proposal said he backed the changes.

“We’re going to allow a person to believe what they want to believe without the state coming in and burdening that unless they’ve got a good reason to do so,” Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger told the House Judiciary Committee.

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Hutchinson was the second governor in as many days to give ground to opponents of the law. Since signing Indiana’s law last week, Pence and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have been subjected to sharp criticism from around the country. It led Pence to seek changes to address concerns that the law would allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Hutchinson has faced pressure from the state’s largest employers, including retail giant Wal-Mart. Businesses called the bill discriminatory and said it would hurt Arkansas’ image. Hutchinson noted that his own son, Seth, had signed a petition urging him to veto the bill.

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