Saying the legislation would be “unbelievably damaging” to the state, the head of a major economic development group is urging Gov. Jan Brewer to veto legislation expanding the ability of businesses to use their religion to deny services.
Barry Broome, president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said he had four companies call him within hours of the House giving final approval late Thursday to SB 1062 saying they were no longer interested in considering the Phoenix area for new locations “specifically because of this bill.”
“I’ve had a CEO tell me that his HR director advise him that under good conscience she could not relocate any of the people that work for the company into this market because of this bill,” Broome continued.
He said officials from two companies already in Arizona told him Friday that some customers are dropping them, also because of SB 1062.
“This bill will be unbelievable damaging to the branding and the reputation of the state,” he said. “It’s not an exaggeration.”
Broome is expressing those views in a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer, urging her to veto the measure when it hits her desk on Monday.
Brewer, in Washington for the National Governors Association conference, provided no clues.
“It’s a very controversial piece of legislation,” she told a CNN crew that caught up with her on Friday. “I’ve got to get my hands around it.”
Brewer, who has touted what she calls the “Arizona comeback” as part of her legacy, has been especially sensitive to things designed to promote job growth.
Late Friday, Secretary of State Ken Bennett added his objections, calling SB 1062 “an unnecessary measure to protect a God-given right already assured by the Constitution.”
Bennett, a Republican candidate for governor, said he supports religious freedoms. “But divisive measures such as these distract us from the most important challenges facing Arizona: jobs and economic development.”
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, also seeing the GOP nod for governor, said he wants to protect religious rights.
“But I also am a member of a church that has experienced severe persecution because of its beliefs,” he said. Smith also cited a “detrimental impact on Arizona's business environment at a time when our economy is still fragile.”
“SB 1062 will simply be used to caricature our state and hurt our economic growth and should, for that reason, be withdrawn,” said Christine Jones, another Republican gubernatorial hopeful.
State Treasurer Doug Ducey, also hoping to be the next governor, said he is studying it, saying he will “approach this as both a man of faith and a businessman.”
All that has put Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy, which crafted the measure, on the defensive.
“None of the objections to SB 1062 have anything to do with the bill’s language,” she said, accusing foes of trotting out a “parade of horribles.”
More to the point, Herrod said businesses in Arizona already are free to refuse to serve gays.
That’s because existing anti-discrimination laws apply only those who are in what are called “protected classes” spelled out in statute. That covers things like race, religion, gender and national origin.
In Arizona, however, there are no state laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, though several cities do have local ordinances.
Broome is not alone.
Gonzalo de la Melena Jr., president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also wrote Friday to Brewer, saying his own board voted unanimously to oppose the legislation. He cited not only constitutional and legal issues but also the belief that the measure is aimed at the LGBT community “which like all communities in Arizona contributes greatly to our economic health.”
But de la Melena, like Broome, worried about the issue from an economic development standpoint, saying the legislation will “ultimately have the effect of casing Arizona in a negative light that stands to damage our reputation nationwide and globally.”
Most other business groups are sitting on the sidelines, at least for the time being.
“We’re taking a look at it,” said Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership. Ditto the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.
Calls to the statewide and Phoenix chambers went unreturned.
But some individuals are weighing in.
“To pass a bill like SB 1062 would be bad for business,” said Colette Barajas, owner of Centra Realty in Tucson. “People will not want to come to Arizona. People will not want to stay.”
Herrod, however, said the whole point of the measure is being misunderstood and distorted.
“The issue here is that Arizona should be free to live and work according to their faith,” Herrod said. She said SB 1062 is simply “clarifying” an existing Arizona law which already allows business owners to use their religious beliefs as a shield against certain government regulations.
But it may matter less to the governor what the measure says than the message being received by the businesses her Arizona Commerce Authority is spending millions of dollars to lure here. Broome said they see the legislation as a sign that Arizona, the only state where lawmakers have approved this particular measure, is hostile to gays.
“I would encourage businesses to look at it from an opposite viewpoint, that Arizona should be a state that respects and values diversity of religious beliefs,” Herrod responded. “And we are a state that is open to enabling business owners and individuals to live out their faith.”
Broome, however, was unmoved by Herrod’s argument that Arizona needs a new law to protect religious freedom.
“The Ku Klux Klan in the South, their main argument was with a Bible in their hands,” he said. “There’s a long history of people engaging in persecution in the name of their religion.”
Broome said this is different than what happened after Brewer signed SB 1070, the 2010 legislation aimed at illegal immigration. In that case, he said economic development experts had no problem explaining to businesses why it was appropriate for Arizona to enact such laws – and why that should not affect any decision to locate here.
“We had a serious immigration problem and the state was trying to address a problem that was real and known,” Broome said.
Not so this time.
“There’s no rationale behind this bill, other than the bill is designed to target certain classes of people,” he said.
There already is precedent of sorts for what is in SB 1062.
For example, doctors who have religious objections to abortion cannot be required to perform the procedure and cannot be disciplined. Similarly, a pharmacist cannot be forced to stock or supply the so-called “morning-after” pill, which is designed to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, even if that is the only pharmacy in town.
Brewer vetoed a measure similar to SB 1062 last year, but that had nothing to do with what was in the measure. Instead, Brewer was miffed that lawmakers had ignored her demand to send her a budget and approve her plan to expand Medicaid before sending her anything else.
“It is disappointing I must demonstrate the moratorium was not an idle threat,” she wrote at the time.