House may override veto of religious freedom bill


by Associated Press

Posted on March 26, 2013 at 5:40 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 26 at 5:14 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The House is prepared to hold a vote Tuesday on overriding Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's veto of a bill that sponsors say is intended to protect the religious beliefs of Kentuckians from government intrusion.

It was Democratic lawmakers who made the decision to push for the veto override, though most House Republicans are expected to join in the vote.

"I think we need to protect our religious freedoms," said state Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge. "I'll tell you in my district, I have yet to have one phone call asking me not to override."

Beshear vetoed the measure on Friday, saying that while he values religious freedom, he thinks the bill goes too far. That was one of several issues that remained unresolved as lawmakers headed into the final day of the legislative session.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said lawmakers decided late Monday to pursue the override.

Beshear had been under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and other groups to veto the measure that they contend could allow people to discriminate against gays, lesbians and others in the name of religion. Meanwhile, church groups had urged Beshear to sign the bill, saying Kentucky should be allowed to join 16 other states that provide similar protections for people of faith.

State Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, sponsored the bill after the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a ruling last year upholding a state law requiring the Amish to display bright orange safety triangles on their drab buggies so motorists could better see them. Several Amish men in rural western Kentucky felt so strongly that displaying the triangles violated their religious belief against calling attention to themselves that they went to jail rather than comply with the law.

The legislation protects "sincerely held religious beliefs" from infringement unless there is "a compelling governmental interest."

In another matter, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes still is trying to get a bill passed to ensure Kentucky soldiers deployed overseas have their votes counted in elections back home. She wants soldiers to be allowed to send ballots to the state electronically to make sure they're not lost or delayed in the mail. And she wants a provision that would allow soldiers' ballots that are returned by mail to be counted even if they arrive up to two days after an election.

The proposal hit a snag in the state Senate, where lawmakers worry hackers could interfere with Kentucky elections and that candidates in close elections could have to wait two additional days to find out whether they won.

Lawmakers also continued work on a proposal to allow Medi-Share, a Christians-only health care plan, to resume operation in Kentucky. A Franklin County judge had ordered the Florida-based ministry to stop operating last year at the request of the Kentucky Department of Insurance. The House and Senate are working on a compromise that would exempt Medi-Share from state insurance regulations, allowing it to resume doing business in Kentucky.

No movement was reported Monday on legislative redistricting.

Always a divisive issue, redistricting is supposed to occur every 10 years to account for population changes found by the U.S. Census Bureau. Kentucky had major population shifts between 2000 and 2010, requiring reconfiguration of legislative districts in both the House and Senate.

The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down legislators' first effort last year, finding that the proposed districts weren't balanced by population and didn't comply with the federal and state "one person, one vote" mandate.