Arkansas Gov. Signs Religious Freedom Bill, Indiana Lawmakers OK Changes

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(NBC News) The governor of Arkansas signed a rewritten “religious freedom” bill into law Thursday, and lawmakers in Indiana approved a revised version of its law after a blistering wave of criticism.

Arkansas’ amended bill, which supporters say would protect business owners from being forced by government to act against their religious beliefs, passed the House of Representatives 76-17 Thursday.

“I know it’s been a contentious debate,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. “We resolved it in an Arkansas way and in the right way for our country and for the people of Arkansas.”

Hutchinson on Wednesday asked lawmakers to revise the bill to more closely mirror federal law after critics said it could open the door for businesses to discriminate against gay customers. Mega-retailer Walmart and Hutchinson’s son were among those who opposed the earlier bill.

Asked about some critics who feel the new bill doesn’t go far enough to protect against discrimination, Hutchinson said, “The debate goes on. But the fact that it might not solve every problem for everyone probably means it’s a good bill.”

The gay and transgender advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign said the law is an improvement from the earlier bill but still leaves gays exposed to discrimination. “The fact remains that the only way to ensure LGBT Arkansans are treated equally under state law is to add explicit protections for them,” Sarah Warbelow, the group’s legal director group, said in a statement.

In Indiana, lawmakers in the House and Senate approved a revised bill designed to “clarify” its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was met with protests and boycotts after Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill into law last week. Critics say it allows businesses to refuse to serve gay customers.

The new bill spells out that the law does not allow businesses to refuse to serve gays or other minority groups.

Pence’s office would not say what if the governor plans to sign the bill, but Pence responded to the backlash this week by ordering changes to be made. “We’ll fix this,” he said.

Several state governments barred nonessential official travel to Indiana after the bill was passed, and Indiana-based Angie’s List announced it would cancel a planned expansion in Indianapolis over the legislation. The country’s largest union of public employees, AFSCME, announced it was moving an October conference out of the state’s capital.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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