- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - Democratic Arizona lawmakers who want to amend the state’s civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status appealed Monday to Republicans’ pro-business core to support the effort.

Democratic leaders said at a Capitol news conference that the state’s lack of protection is hurting its national reputation among businesses.

“We have a governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature that define themselves as being pro-business, so I challenge them to walk the talk,” said Rep. Rebecca Rios, the House minority leader. “Supporting LGBTQ workplace equality is good for business and Arizona workers should be judged by one thing - their ability to get the job done.”

Rios and state Sen. Katie Hobbs have support from religious leaders and gay-rights groups. Another prominent backer is Arizona-based tech firm GoDaddy, one of the state’s largest employers.

Kate VanHorn, the company’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, said GoDaddy has a strong non-discrimination policy but is at a competitive disadvantage with other firms across the nation because Arizona lacks protections for all workers.

“Employees want to know they are protected both within and without the workplace,” VanHorn said.

Current Arizona law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations because of race, religion, sex or national origin. The law does not cover sexual orientation, gender identify or veteran status.

Democrats have introduced Senate Bill 1320 and House Bill 2364 to add those categories to state civil rights laws.

Efforts to push similar legislation since 2008 have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Hobbs, minority leader in the Senate, said Democrats’ efforts to garner Republican support has run up against the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group led by Cathi Herrod that is a powerful force at the Legislature.

“I think that most people are cowering to Cathi Herrod and not willing to do anything to upset her on this bill,” Hobbs said.

Herrod said it’s easy to blame her for everything that happens at the Capitol, but the facts are that Republican lawmakers don’t support the proposals. She said the proposals limit the rights of individuals and private business owners.

“The First Amendment guarantees all individuals the right to live and work according to their beliefs,” Herrod said. “These proposals do not protect that guarantee.”

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has said he’s against discrimination “in all its forms” but does not plan to push the Legislature to adopt stronger anti-discrimination laws.

“I’m not in the habit of telling the Legislature and other elected officials what they should be doing,” Ducey said.

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