Mon March 18, 2013
Council Democrats Urge ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Veto; Opponents Note Fischer's Absence
Joining dozens of civil rights groups, six Democratic members of the Louisville Metro Council have signed a letter asking Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to block the ‘religious freedom’ bill.
The bill allows individuals to ignore laws and regulations that violate tenets of their faith, and it passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the General Assembly. Supporters point to court decisions that have made it easier for the government to infringe on First Amendment rights for religious beliefs.
But opponents argue the measure is too broad and therefore could threaten protections for racial minorities, women and members of the LGBT community.
The Louisville Fairness Campaign circulated the petition to council members, but did not approach any council Republicans to sign it.
Councilwoman Attica Scott, D-1, says she signed the letter to Beshear because the bill compromises civil rights laws in Kentucky.
"I’m very disappointed that people in our state legislature fail to think more about the people across the state who may identify differently than they do and who definitely need these additional protections from any kind of discrimination," she says.
Beshear told WFPL his office’s legal staff is still reviewing the measure, but a decision will be made this week before state lawmakers reconvene for the final two days of the session.
The president of the Republican-controlled state Senate has already warned his chamber has the votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
It is unclear if the 'religious freedom' bill would also be upheld by the Democratic-controlled House, which initially passed the measure by a 82-7 vote. In a telephone interview with WFPL a few weeks ago, state Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholashville, who was the original sponsor, warned the House would beat back a veto.
Other prominent Democrats have chimed in to tell Beshear to block the measure, however.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., confirmed the congressman urged a veto. And Metro Council President Jim King, D-10, was among the city lawmakers signing the Fairness Campaign's letter.
Opponents of HB 279 have noted Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's absence, saying he is being noticeably quiet on the matter.
"I would say that Mayor Fischer has a responsibility to weigh in soon because if he doesn’t it will be too late. The governor will have already made his decision and Mayor Fischer’s voice will not have been added to this and that will be a disappointment," says Louisville Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman.
Mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter says Fischer is still receiving legal opinions from the county attorney about the bill, and the administration is doing "diligent research" before making any comment.
"We all anxiously await to see if Mayor Fischer will weigh-in on this. We would all feel emboldened in our efforts if he followed Congressman Yarmuth's lead," says Hartman. "The information on the bill has been out for quite a little while."