Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kentucky Governor Vetoes "Flawed" Religious Freedom Bill

Earlier this month the Kentucky legislature passed HB 279, a religious freedom bill, that provided:
Government shall not substantially burden a person's freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A "burden" shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.
On Friday Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed the bill. In his veto message (full text), he called the bill "flawed," saying in part:
as written, the measure is itself vague, and thereby creates impermissible uncertainty for businesses, individuals and governmental agencies as to the boundaries of existing laws.
In a press release, the Governor's office expanded on the reasons for the veto, objecting to the heightened standard of "clear and convincing proof" and the unclear definition of "burden," both of which make the law different from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The press release listed dozens of organizations and public officials who supported the governor's veto. Their concerns included possible weakening of local civil rights laws; negative impact on enforcement of drug laws; financial burdens on local governments; and possible withholding of needed medical care or use of religion as a justification for abuse. The governor said he is willing to work with supporters to develop a bill that avoids the unintended consequences of this version.

According to the Richmond Register, the state Senate is prepared to vote to override the governor's veto. However it is less clear whether the House will do so.