PHOENIX — Saying the legislation would be “unbelievably damaging” to the state, business and economic development leaders are urging Gov. Jan Brewer to veto legislation expanding the ability of businesses to evoke religion to deny services to gays and perhaps others.
Barry Broome, president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said four companies called him within hours of SB 1062 passing to say they were no longer considering the Phoenix area for new locations “specifically because of this bill.”
“I’ve had a CEO tell me that his HR director advised 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 said. And he said officials from two companies already in Arizona told him Friday some customers are dropping them because of SB 1062.
“This bill will be unbelievable damaging to the branding and the reputation of the state,” he said in a letter to Brewer urging her to veto the measure.
Brewer, in Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association conference, provided no clues as to what she will do.
“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.”
But 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 seeking 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, while also citing 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“SB 1062 will simply be used to caricature our state and hurt our economic growth and should, for that reason, be withdrawn,” said Christine Jones, another Republican gubernatorial hopeful.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 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.”
Herrod said businesses in Arizona already are free to refuse to serve gays because existing anti-discrimination laws apply only those who are in “protected classes” specified by law, such as 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.
Gonzalo de la Melena Jr., president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, also wrote Brewer on Friday, saying his board voted unanimously to oppose the legislation. He cited constitutional and legal issues and the belief the measure is aimed at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender 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 casting Arizona in a negative light.”
Most other business groups are sitting on the sidelines for now.
“We’re taking a look at it,” said Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, as are the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona. Calls to the statewide and Phoenix chambers went unreturned.
Herrod, however, said the whole point of the measure is being misunderstood and distorted.
“The issue here is that Arizonans should be free to live and work according to their faith,” Herrod said. She said SB 1062 is simply “clarifying” existing Arizona law, which allows business owners to use their religious beliefs as a shield against certain government regulations.
“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 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 why Arizona needed 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.
But this time, he said, “There’s no rationale behind this bill, other than the bill is designed to target certain classes of people.”
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.