- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas’ Senate president said Tuesday he didn’t like the process surrounding the last-minute revamping of a religious objections measure that was initially criticized as anti-gay, but said he believed the compromise law offers more certainty for both sides of the debate.

Senate President Jonathan Dismang said he shared in some of the blame over the furor, saying he didn’t read the first version of the bill that was sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson that was cast as discriminatory. Hutchinson signed a compromise version of the bill into law Thursday, a day after calling for changes in the face of calls from the state’s largest employers - including retail giant Wal-Mart - to veto the bill.

“I think ultimately we got where we wanted to be,” the Republican from Beebe told members of the Political Animals Club. “The process was not pretty, but again the ultimate result I think was good.”

Mr. Hutchinson, also a Republican, asked lawmakers to rewrite the measure, which bars state and local government from infringing on someone’s religious beliefs without a compelling reason, so it would more closely mirror a 1993 federal law. He signed the measure the same day Indiana’s governor approved an amendment to that state’s religious objections law in the face of similar protests.

Mr. Dismang said the initial bill created uncertainty since it didn’t match with federal law.

“My understanding was the (initial) bill mirrored the federal law, when in fact it didn’t,” he said. “When you peel it away and look at the issue, it was the uncertainty it created whether for the LGBT community or for, in a way in my opinion, Christians. What was going to be the ultimate outcome from this uncertainty?”

Unlike Indiana, Arkansas’ compromise measure doesn’t include specific language barring the law from being used to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Arkansas measure addresses actions only by government, not businesses or individuals. Supporters said that would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals.

Opponents have said the measure could still allow for discrimination, particularly because Arkansas doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity in its anti-discrimination law. Mr. Dismang later told reporters he didn’t know if he’d support expanding the law to include those protections.

Mr. Dismang, who is serving as Senate president through the end of next year, said he didn’t know if he’d seek another term leading the chamber.

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