The Arizona Republic

Legislator­s defend support for SB 1062

- By Parker Leavitt

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs and two other Republican lawmakers defended their support for Senate Bill 1062 during an outreach breakfast Friday in Gilbert, blaming opponents for a national outcry while painting the bill as merely a “technical correction.”

Pushed for by the socially conservati­ve Center for Arizona Policy, SB 1062 sought to expand the rights of people to refuse services based on a “sincerely held” religious belief.

After a week of intense national scrutiny and criticism toward Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on Feb. 26, saying the law could divide the state “in ways we cannot even imagine.”

While critics worried the bill would lead to discrimina­tion against gays and others, Biggs told business leaders at the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce breakfast that he viewed it merely as a technical update to an existing law.

State Reps. Eddie Farnsworth and Warren Petersen, who with Biggs hail from Legislativ­e District 12 in Gilbert and Queen Creek, made similar arguments that the bill simply sought to conform Arizona’s statutes to federal language and clarify the definition of a “person.”

“It didn’t expand religious liberty, it didn’t expand the definition of protected classes, it didn’t extend any of that,” said Farnsworth, who sponsored a mirror version of SB 1062 in the state House of Representa­tives.

“This was nothing but hyperbole that was put together by those who want to make sexual preference a protected class. And I have to tell you they did a very good job of getting it out in the media and saying things that weren’t accurate.”

Farnsworth accused state Rep. Chad Campbell, the Democratic House minority leader, of using “rhetoric” to turn the tide against SB 1062 and said the negative perception may have caused damage to Arizona’s business community.

“I think there will be some (damage),” Farnsworth said. “It’s unwarrante­d, it’s unfortunat­e, but I don’t think there’s any long-term problem.”

Campbell said he is glad to be singled out for opposing a bill that was basically “state-sanctioned discrimina­tion.”

“There’s no doubt of the intention of the bill,” Campbell said. “It was a bill aimed at unprotecte­d classes of people and taking away their rights.”

Farnsworth and others who supported the law are on the wrong side of history, Campbell added.

“Years from now, when we finally have granted the LGBT community the rights that they deserve, we’ll look back at this bill and laugh at it,” Campbell said.

Biggs,

meanwhile,

said “shame on everybody” who pressured the governor to veto the bill.

Many businesses organizati­ons and community leaders called on Brewer for a veto in the days leading up to her decision, including Gilbert Mayor John Lewis and Gilbert Chamber of Commerce board President Kevin DeRosa, both of whom attended the breakfast meeting.

Chamber President Kathy Tilque reaffirmed the organizati­on’s opposition based on “unintended consequenc­es” if the bill had become law.

“Those consequenc­es were of tremendous concern to the business community and shed a negative spotlight upon our state, all of which far outweighed what was introduced as a technical correction,” Tilque said.

Farnsworth attributed some of the backlash against SB 1062 to what he called “a very radical section within the homosexual community” that is pushing for legal designatio­n as a protected class.

He contended that discrimina­tion against “one piece of sexual preference” had nothing to do with the bill and said a business owner should have the right to refuse service to anyone not part of a protected class.

“That’s different than persecutin­g,” Farnsworth said. “You can’t punch somebody, you can’t kick them, you can’t shoot them, you can’t do any of those things, but you certainly have a right to decide who’s going to represent you and who you’re going to serve.”

Panel moderator Russell Smoldon pointed out that Arizona already has strong statutes against hate crimes, prompting a pointed question from Farnsworth.

“You want to get me started on that, too?” Farnsworth said. “If I kill you, Russell, does it matter if I hate you or not?”

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