Over four-dozen groups are planning a rally to pressure Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to block the so-called ‘religious freedom’ bill.
The measure would allow citizens to ignore laws and regulations based on their religious faith, and it passed both chambers of the General Assembly by an overwhelming margin. Supporters argue the law simply reaffirms the rights for people of faith that have been stripped by the courts.
Those against HB 279 contend lawmakers failed to closely examine the measure or debate its consequences, which they say could threaten civil rights protections for racial minorities, women and LGBT residents.
“It is a moment of political courage for the governor,” says Louisville Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman. “But I think it’s also a moment to send this legislation back to the House to re-address the concerns that it didn’t address the first time when it hastily passed this measure. Up to a day before the bill was called to the House floor it was losing co-sponsors as people were learning more and more about the unintended consequences.”
Beshear’s office has been guarded when asked if the governor plans to sign or block the bill, simply saying they will review the legislation.
The chief sponsor of the ‘religious freedom’ act—Democratic state Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville—dismissed criticism of the bill as “ramblings of the ultra-left. He also warned if Beshear blocked it, then the General Assembly will overturn that decision.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we have adequate votes to override a gubernatorial veto,” Damron said.
But Hartman says if Beshear sends HB 279 back to state lawmakers it will send a message and help change more minds in the Democratic-controlled House.
“It’s such a short bill and it’s so broadly worded that people were really taking it at face value when it came up on the House and not really reading into what could happen with that broadly worded language without the amendments for civil rights protections,” he says.
The gay rights, civil liberties and labor groups against the bill are also sending hand-written letters to the governor this week asking him to block it.
The rally is planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda.
“I’m just now getting that bill delivered to me and I’m going (to) be having all of our agencies and other folks give me their comments on it,” he says. “And then I’m going take a look at that before I make a decision.”