After House panel effectively kills ‘religious freedom’ bill, Bobby Jindal plans executive order to accomplish the bill's intent

Just hours after a Louisiana House panel overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to effectively kill one of his priority pieces of legislation, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order that he said would continue to give life to the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act’s intent.

House Bill 707 had sought to carve out protections for people who oppose same-sex marriage. The executive order is much narrower in scope, Jindal admitted, and some opponents of the measure have questioned whether the order will have much impact. But after the House Civil Law Committee’s 10-2 vote Tuesday to end the measure’s chances this session through a procedural move, Jindal argued that his possibly temporary order was the “next best thing.”

“It applies to all of the executive branch of state government,” Jindal told reporters minutes after issuing the order. “It will offer good protections for the people of Louisiana.”

House Bill 707, sponsored by Bossier City Republican state Rep. Mike Johnson, faced a strong backlash earlier this session after it was linked to controversial “religious freedom” measures proposed in Indiana and Arkansas.

Committee Chairman Neil Abramson said that the bill was just too “problematic.”

“The concern is whether the bill also promotes or condones discrimination in the name of religion,” Abramson said.

Stopping short of saying he was surprised by the committee’s action, Jindal said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed,” Jindal said. “It is not about discrimination. It’s about protecting rights.”

Over the course of more than three hours, a string of supporters — mostly religious conservatives — testified for the bill, and an equally lengthy parade of critics of the legislation — mostly business leaders and gay rights advocates — charged that it fostered discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The opponents of the legislation declared victory after the committee’s vote.

“We’ve said all along that this bill does not reflect the Louisiana we know and love, and today’s vote confirms that,” Equality Louisiana President Baylor Boyd said, noting how proud he was of the committee’s action.

After Jindal announced his executive order, Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau and a longtime political ally of Jindal, released a lengthy statement highlighting Jindal’s announcement earlier this week that he’s launching a presidential campaign exploratory committee and questioning the intent behind the initial bill.

“Many conversations were overheard in the hallways of the Capitol today that the measure was filed to generate additional fundraising capacity for social conservative organizations and their political base, as well as a preventative reaction to the potential establishment by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of same-sex marriage validity as the law of the United States on equal rights grounds,” Perry said in his statement, which clocked in at 932 words. “Social conservatives around the nation are exploring various ways to temper that anticipated ruling, although it was unclear from the hearing today how a proposed state statutory action could mitigate or in any manner override a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in any matter.”

Perry also questioned the effectiveness of the executive order.

“The New Orleans tourism industry, along with other business sectors and leaders, intend to review the governor’s executive order extensively this evening, but are certain that, based on our Louisiana Constitution and recent court rulings, the enactment of any substantive law changes unilaterally by the governor will not stand the tests of time or law,” Perry wrote.

Jindal is term-limited and his executive order will automatically expire 60 days after the 2016 legislative session, unless the next governor extends it. The next governor also could immediately rescind the order, upon taking office in January. The election is Oct. 24.

Johnson has vowed to push the legislation again next session, which Jindal expressed support for.

“They’ll have a chance to vote on this again,” Jindal said.

He said his executive order, which applies only to the executive branch, will prevent the state from being able to deny or revoke tax exemptions, tax deductions, contracts, cooperative agreements, loans, professional licenses, certifications, accreditation or employment on the basis of opposition toward same-sex marriage.

Johnson argued that the goal of HB707 was to come out ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could legalize same-sex marriage across the country. He argued that such a ruling could make those who oppose same-sex marriage vulnerable to political retaliation.

After the bill’s defeat early Tuesday, he continued to defend its need.

“There’s never a convenient time to stand up for liberty,” Johnson told a crowd of reporters outside the hearing room. “This issue’s not going away, though.”

In a meeting with reporters in Jindal’s office that also featured the governor, Johnson praised Jindal’s decision to issue the executive order.

“This issue is imminent,” he said.

Several of the bill’s supporters testified Tuesday that they fear religious persecution over their opposition to same-sex marriage. Several argued that a constitutional amendment Louisiana voters adopted in 2004 banning same-sex marriage in Louisiana is evidence that a majority of the state’s residents object to same-sex marriage and, thus, need protection in the Marriage and Conscience Act.

“We’re being asked to choose sides in the culture war,” Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills said. “It’s entirely plausible that national standards could be prejudiced against the views in Louisiana.”

Meanwhile, several from the business community testified that even the perception that the legislation encourages discrimination could threaten the state’s tourism industry and other business endeavors.

Todd Chambers, chairman of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that bidding against other states and cities for large-scale events would be impossible if the bill passed.

“They will take the path of least resistance. They just will,” he said.

Large companies, including IBM and Dow Chemical, have come out against the measure.

“The Dow Chemical Company strives to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces and to retain and recruit the best talent. We believe that everyone should be able to bring their whole self to work,” Earl Shipp, vice president of Dow Gulf Coast Operations, said in a statement. “We call upon our legislative leaders to focus on making our state more competitive and economically sound instead of taking actions that divide us as citizens.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .

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