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Republican-pushed "right to disagree" bill dies in Colorado Senate

April 18, 2017 Updated: April 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm
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photo - Colorado Senate. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Colorado Senate. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post) 

An effort that would have allowed businesses to deny services to customers based on personal beliefs died in the legislature on Tuesday with three Republicans joining Democrats.

It was the second failed effort this year aimed at granting business owners and operators the "right to disagree."

Republicans who pushed the measure claimed it was meant to help businesses, despite opposition from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and other business groups who said the legislation would give Colorado a black eye.

North Carolina recently repealed parts of the state's controversial "bathroom bill," including the requirement that transgender people use a bathroom that matches their birth certificate. North Carolina saw significant backlash from the transgender bathroom ban. Colorado business leaders feared that a similar outcry would cloud the Centennial State.

Republican Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik of Thornton, Don Coram of Montrose and Jack Tate of Centennial joined with Democrats in opposing the measure on Tuesday as it was debated on the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 283 would have allowed businesses to deny services if patrons "convey a message with which the business chooses not to associate itself or with which the business owner disagrees."

Owners would have also been allowed to deny service for "an event that conveys a message with which the business chooses not to associate itself or with which the business owner disagrees."

The "right to disagree" was viewed as a "right to discriminate" by opponents of the bill. They feared that it would have targeted gay people and minority groups.

"This bill breaks my heart," said Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver. "This bill opens the door to blatant discrimination. This is not about simple disagreement. This is about blatant discrimination."

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who said the perennial effort is about protecting the "freedom of conscience."

"Senate Bill 283 creates the distinction between discrimination and the business owner's right to identify what their business is ... That's a situation where somebody has gone in and said to the business owner, 'I want you to do something you don't do.'"

Lundberg offered the hypothetical of a patron walking into a bookstore demanding that the owner provide a book that the owner finds offensive.

"That is the line that's crossed that's inappropriate," he said. "That's what this is designed to do, to make that distinction between discrimination and the freedom of conscience for everyone, including the business owner."

The earlier legislation this year, House Bill 1013, would have defined "exercise of religion," allowing businesses to deny services if a request from a patron violated their freedom of religion.

Senate Bill 283 would have more broadly allowed business owners to deny services for a "message" they disagree with.

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