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Arkansas governor: No urgent need for anti-discrimination order

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) Danny Johnston, AP

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he doesn’t see an urgent need to expand workplace anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian state employees after lawmakers reworked a religious objections measure to address concerns it was discriminatory.

The Republican governor told reporters he floated the idea of such an order as an alternative in case lawmakers didn’t agree to his request to revise a bill prohibiting state and local government from infringing on someone’s religious beliefs without a compelling reason. Hutchinson signed a compromise version of the bill after it was changed to more closely mirror a 1993 federal law.

“I don’t see any urgent need for it now,” Hutchinson said. “Again, I got my request, so we’ll see what the future develops but I considered the issue resolved when they gave me my first request of a new bill.”

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Hutchinson had called for changes to the bill after facing widespread backlash from some of the state’s largest employers, including retail giant Wal-Mart. He signed the compromise measure into law the same day Indiana’s governor approved an amendment to that state’s religious objections law in the face of similar protests.

Unlike Indiana, Arkansas’ compromise measure doesn’t include specific language barring the law from being used to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Arkansas measure addresses actions only by government, not businesses or individuals. Supporters said that would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals.

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