Legislature May Override Veto of Religious Bill
By AP/WestKyStar Staff
FRANKFORT, KY - The sponsor of the a religious freedom bill vetoed by Governor Steve Beshear on Friday says he will ask for a legislative override before the session ends.
Democratic Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville made the announcement shortly after Beshear outlined his reasons for not signing it. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate is prepared to override the veto, though the House will have to take action first.
If the bill is brought up Monday or Tuesday, the override will probably happen. House Bill 279 passed overwhelmingly in both chambers - the House vote was 82-7, with 11 not voting, and the Senate passed it by a vote of 29-6. State law requires a constitutional majority of at least 51 House votes and 20 in the Senate.
Damron sponsored the bill after the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a ruling last year upholding a state law requiring the Amish to display bright orange safety triangles on their drab buggies so motorists could better see them. Several Amish men in Graves County felt so strongly that displaying the triangles violated their religious belief against calling attention to themselves that they went to jail rather than comply with the law.
The legislation protects "sincerely held religious beliefs" from infringement unless there is "a compelling governmental interest."
The Fairness Coalition, a gay rights group, said the bill "could make discrimination legal" in Kentucky.
Beshear said in his statement that he values religious freedom and appreciates the good intentions of lawmakers who overwhelmingly passed the legislation.
"However, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals' civil rights," he said. "As written, the bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation."
Beshear has been under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and other groups to veto the measure that they contend could allow people to discriminate against gays, lesbians and others in the name of religion. Meanwhile, church groups have been urging Beshear to sign the bill, saying Kentucky should be allowed to join 16 other states that provide similar protections for people of faith.
Damron acknowledged that passing the bill wouldn't to bring landmark change in Kentucky.
"But it does reinforce that somebody's basic right of religious expression is paramount and the government has to have a compelling interest to override that," he said.
Martin Cothran, a spokesman for The Family Foundation, said the veto was sad news in the Bible-belt state.
"This puts churches around the commonwealth of Kentucky on notice that the First Amendment religious freedoms they thought their government respected may now be negotiable," Cothran said. "We just hope elected lawmakers in the Legislature will act quickly to correct the governor's action. We think they will."