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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Bob Ballinger speaks on the House floor while presenting Senate amendments to his bill, House Bill 1228, on Tuesday afternoon. ( Gavin Lesnick)

Arkansas's Religion Freedom Restoration Act was approved by the state's House of Representatives on Tuesday in a final vote before it heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk.

Hutchinson has said repeatedly he will sign the measure into law despite opponents who have called it discriminatory and a backlash against similar legislation in Indiana that has that state's governor seeking to further clarify the law's scope.

The Arkansas House passed amendments in three separate votes: 68-19, 67-18 and 67-21, to HB1228 on Tuesday. The chamber previously approved the bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, but had to approve a new version with amendments added in the state Senate.

Rep. Camille Bennett, D-Lonoke, led a failed attempt to refer the bill back to committee, saying the Senate "hijacked" the bill by adding 68 lines to it.

Ballinger spoke against the amendment, saying that the legislation already "identically mirrors" federal law.

"The bill as is is an effective bill, is a good bill, is effective to pass," Ballinger said. "If you're going to refer it back to committee, it's to kill the bill."

That motion failed with 26 voting for and 62 voting against it.

Rep. Eddie Armstrong, D-North Little Rock, spoke against the third Senate amendment.

"Several members of our caucus and across party lines have vehemently tried to talk to Ballinger...and work with the governor's office to amend this bill, not to kill it but to make it plausible law," Armstrong said.

Several representatives, including Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, called for points of order during Armstrong's speech because they said he wasn't speaking just about the amendment.

Armstrong sat down after Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, called for a point of order and said that Armstrong was "attacking" other representatives.

Supporters of the law say it provides needed religious protections. Opponents, including many who gathered at the state Capitol for a second day in a row to protest HB1228, counter that the bill enables discrimination against gay people.

The leaders of Apple, Yelp and Little Rock-based Acxiom have called on Hutchinson to veto the bill, and Wal-Mart has also expressed reservations about it. On Tuesday, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola sent a letter to Hutchinson asking him to veto it and a former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Davy Carter, on Monday called on House members to vote against the bill.

Wal-Mart's CEO Doug McMillion released a statement via a company social media account saying that HB1228 "threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold."

Ballinger has said HB1228 will shift Arkansas to a strict scrutiny standard, which makes it more difficult to infringe on a person’s religious rights. The bill also defines a person as associations, partnerships, corporations, religious institutions or other legal entities. Ballinger told House members when the legislation initially passed that chamber last month that it would require the government to have compelling interest and for it to take the least restrictive action to regulate a "legitimate, deeply-held religious belief."

See Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full coverage.

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Archived Comments

  • FoxFifty
    March 31, 2015 at 3:33 p.m.

    Well crap! Bye bye progress, bye bye our future! Next can we repeal womens' right to vote?

  • JakeTidmore
    March 31, 2015 at 3:37 p.m.

    So Ballinger is saying that discrimination, if given a religious covering, is - in his words - "legitimate"?
    As the old account Tweets from God put it: 'I hate the word homophobia. It's not a phobia. You are not scared; you are an a$$hole.'

  • Elector
    March 31, 2015 at 3:39 p.m.

    My church says tht gluttony is a sin, one of the seven deadly sins. Rep. Ballinger is a sinner, it's written all over him. Can I refuse him service?

  • edo1962
    March 31, 2015 at 3:39 p.m.

    Thank You! Sign it

  • CFSmith
    March 31, 2015 at 3:42 p.m.

    1 Corinthians 6:18 through 20
    Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

    Rep. Ballinger's body blatantly violates this biblical parable; therefore, I cannot be compelled to offer him my services as it would violate my sincerely held religious beliefs. No pizza for you!

  • HawgFan
    March 31, 2015 at 3:46 p.m.

    FoxFifty.... I think you might be on to something there!!! Why do they need to be out voting anyway?! Who's going to cook me dinner and iron my shirts?!

  • LR1955
    March 31, 2015 at 3:49 p.m.

    We can't go backwards because we've never taken the 1st step forward.
    Our car tags use to say: Arkansas, land of opportunity
    Now: Arkansas, the Natural State (prehistoric)

  • PopMom
    March 31, 2015 at 3:50 p.m.

    It's against my religion to serve cake to mean fat people such as Ballinger. I should open up a bakery with a sign that we do not serve fat, Republican legislators.

  • Milskp
    March 31, 2015 at 3:50 p.m.

    I am native Arkansas. I have seen our lawmakers do crazy stuff and suffered the consequences by making our state be a laughing symbol over the years. It seems this group of legislators is doing its best to make stupid decisions. How sad.

  • Slak
    March 31, 2015 at 4:05 p.m.

    I will now dedicate myself to Rastafarianism.