Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced Wednesday that he would not sign the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) as it was presented to him by the legislature on Tuesday. The bill is nearly identical to Indiana’s, including broad protections for religious beliefs beyond what is contained in the federal RFRA or in other states. His comments challenge conservatives’ narrative over the past week that Indiana’s law is identical to the federal law.
Rather than commit to veto the bill, however, Hutchinson urged the legislature to recall the bill and tweak it so that it better mirrors the narrower federal bill. He did note that his own son, Seth, had signed a petition urging him to veto it.
Hutchinson also floated the idea of issuing an executive order protecting against discrimination in the state. Though he did not share many details, this could possibly mirror executive orders issued in other states and last year by President Obama protecting LGBT state employees and possibly the LGBT employees of state contractors as well.
The governor’s assertion that he wants Arkansas to be viewed as a state that doesn’t discriminate rings hollow. Just last month, he allowed another bill to become law without his signature that effectively banned cities and counties from protecting LGBT people from discrimination. The state has no statewide nondiscrimination law that includes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” so even without the current RFRA, no anti-LGBT discrimination is already legal.