After quick work by the Arkansas Legislature, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a revised religious objections bill into law Thursday.
The signing ceremony took place shortly after the House approved a new bill, which replaced one that had drawn criticism from many who suggested it was anti-gay. The new bill more closely mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Rep. Bob Ballinger was the sponsor of the original legislation and said on the House floor that he didn't like having to bring another bill for a vote, but encouraged his colleagues to support it.
"Maybe we’ll be able to go out of here with a bit of unity. We’ll be able to go out of here with some clarity. We’ll be able to go out of here not voting for what the media and everybody else outside of Arkansas thinks is a bill that was designed for discrimination," Ballinger said. "Maybe we can go out of here with a bill that was designed to protect the religious freedoms. The right of a person to believe what they want to believe."
But some, like Rep. Josh Miller, wanted to pressure the governor into either signing or vetoing the original bill.
"I for one do not appreciate someone hiding behind this body when they’re unwilling to take a stand one way or another. Because of that, I will ask that we do not vote for this bill and we let a decision be made on the second floor concerning HB1228," Miller said.
The House voted 76-17 for the bill, with two representatives voting present.
Lawmakers wanted the governor to then sign the new bill before recalling HB1228, which had been sent to his desk for signature.
The Senate had passed the compromise legislation after much debate Wednesday night.
After signing the bill Thursday afternoon, Hutchinson thanked lawmakers for their hard work.
"I know that it was a lot of drain emotionally, I know it was a lot of frustration, I know that it was not fun toward the end of a session. I want to thank each of you from my heart to yours for the extra effort that you've put in to really crafting an Arkansas solution to the challenge that we faced," Hutchinson said.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that while the new version that was signed into law was an improvement from the original bill, it still falls short of providing protections for all Arkansans.
The people of Arkansas spoke up in opposition to a discriminatory, mean-spirited bill, and the state's leaders backed away from the cliff.
Today, LGBT Arkansans are still unequal, and today’s battle points toward a broader struggle ahead--a fight where full and complete equality for all Arkansans that cannot be undermined is the only acceptable outcome. Today, we double down on that commitment, and those fighting for equality in the Natural State should feel encouraged that their efforts can and do make a difference.
The House adjourned Thursday, ending the 90th General Assembly as scheduled before the Easter weekend. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol May 8 for a formal adjournment.