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Senate President still undecided on proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06) is not yet taking a stand on the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill written to provide legal protections to people with deeply held religious beliefs that may run counter to existing state laws and local ordinances.

Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06)

As proposed, the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, HB 4012, ensures that “in all cases where state action is alleged to substantially burden the exercise of religion, that a compelling interest test is mandated and strict scrutiny is applied.”

Supporters of the legislation have argued it protects business owners who refuse service to people based on their religious beliefs.

Critics, though, claimed it opens the door to legal discrimination against people, especially on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Wednesday, Cole indicated Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Trump (R-Morgan, 15) was working with stakeholders to determine if any common ground could be found.

“I’m willing to let it go through its process and then, whatever form it ends up in final, we’ll have it on the floor presumably and then I’ll have to make a decision then,” Cole, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, said.

“I can’t make a decision on something that I don’t know what it looks like in its end product.”

Though he is “inclined to support it,” Cole said his decision will come down to many factors, including the concerns of business owners like himself. “I have a business community that’s worried,” he said.

Cole’s businesses employ more then 400 people.

“We don’t allow any discrimination,” Cole told Hoppy Kercheval on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” which originated from the State Capitol where the 2016 Regular Legislative Session continues through March 12.

Kercheval asked, “You have nondiscrimination policies?”

“We absolutely do,” Cole answered. “Race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, all of it is covered. We will not put up with any, any nonsense along those lines.”

On Feb. 11, the House of Delegates approved the bill with a 72-26 bipartisan vote.

At least seven West Virginia West Virginia communities have passed ordinances preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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