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Iowa Senate passes religious freedom bill after hour-long debate

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(The Center Square) – A bill Democrats said would open the door to discrimination of LGBTQ people passed the Iowa Senate along party lines after an hour-long debate on Tuesday.

Senate File 2095 is the same bill as ones passed in 25 other states, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said during the debate. It also mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also known as RFRA, passed by Congress in 1993, he said.

“This bill really bolts down to really three items. It gives you a cause of action so that somebody who believes their religious freedoms have been infringed have their day in court” Schultz said. “It directs that the state, must prove a compelling interest in order to further continue restricting the religious freedoms of the individual and number three, if the compelling interest test is satisfied, the remedy must be in the least restrictive means available.”

Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, proposed the “Do Not Harm” amendment, which she said would provide a shield against government abuse.

“Specifically, it would make clear that RFRA does not apply to protections against discrimination, including the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the U.S Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 and the Violence Against Women Act,” Weiner said. “It would protect against child labor, abuse or exploitation. It would protect access to health care services and require an employer to provide a wage, other compensation or benefits including leave on a fair equitable basis.”

The amendment failed, with all Republicans voting against it and all Democrats supporting it.

Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Iowa’s Bill of Rights guarantees religious freedom and the bill is not needed.

“What this bill would do is to codify the right to discrimination which is why our Republican colleagues voted against our amendment to protection against discrimination,” Wahls said. “This legislation is just the latest in a long and exhausting line of bills that will make it more difficult for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer Iowans to live, work and raise a family in this state.”

The bill passed 31-16.

The House of Representatives is considering a companion bill, House Study Bill 614.

Both bills have opposition from some state industries.

“This bill would empower Iowa business owners to deny services or accommodation based on a potential customer’s sexual orientation or gender identity or any other protected class. This bill would weaken the Iowa Civil Rights Act,” said Tim Coonan, who spoke during a hearing on HSB 614. Coonan represents Principal Financial Group, which employs 6,000 Iowans. “Forbes estimated damage in North Carolina of $630 million just six months after its 2016 passage of a bathroom bill, including loss of jobs and canceled sporting events.”

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