As Senate Committee Takes Up RFRA, Some Senators Unsure of Vote

Feb 26, 2016

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act for the first time Friday evening, more than two weeks after the House of Delegates approved the legislation.

As anticipated by some members of the body, the committee began considering a strike and insert amendment, replacing the House version of the bill with new provisions, but before the proposed changes were even handed to lawmakers, some members of the chamber were unsure of how they would vote on the final version.

“I probably would not be able to vote for it the way it stands now, " Republican Sen. Chris Walters said of the bill Friday morning. "I don’t think that the Christian thing to do is to discriminate in the name of God and, the way the bill is written right now, I’ve got concerns that may be what it can do.”

House Bill 4012 creates a judicial standard for lawsuits brought against the state when a person claims his or her religious freedoms have been violated. Judges will be required to measure the sincerity of that belief when deciding cases.

Those opposed to the bill, though, worry it will allow for discrimination in the state. 

"I don’t think there’s anything in there that causes discrimination,” Democratic Sen. Art Kirkendoll said of the House version early Friday. Kirkendoll supports the RFRA bill saying he represents an extremely religious region of the state and  his constituents heavily favor the law. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee took up a new version of the bill Friday evening, but before seeing the changes, Kirkendoll said he'd prefer to see the bill stay the same.

Walters on the other hand wanted to see amendments that specifically state the law cannot be used to discriminate, like a similar law in Texas, or protections for municipalities that enact non-discrimination ordinances.

The Republican majority has largely backed the measure, but the party has only a two vote lead in the chamber. The bill is expected to be up for a vote next week.