Dems seek to undo Mississippi LGBT law, but likely to fail

AP News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2016 3:28 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — More than a dozen Democratic lawmakers are calling for repeal of an incoming Mississippi law that will let workers cite religious beliefs to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

But, the Democrats are unlikely to succeed because filing a new bill this late in a legislative session requires a high margin of support in a Legislature where Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers.

A week after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523, Democratic Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford said Tuesday that he will try to undo the measure before it becomes law July 1.

"Our public schools in Mississippi are on life support," Hughes said during a Capitol news conference with other Democrats. "Access to health care in Mississippi and adequate health care is on life support. Our roads and bridges are crumbling. The economy is struggling.... And somehow we seem focused on passing a bill that will kill our economy."

Several states and cities have banned travel to Mississippi and rock singer Bryan Adams canceled a concert in the state this week to protest the bill that they say promotes discrimination. Ninety-five Mississippi authors, including John Grisham and Donna Tartt, signed a letter Monday calling for repeal.

Mississippi is among about 10 states considering bills this year in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. In Louisiana Tuesday, a lawmaker's proposal aimed at protecting clergy and churches from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies will advance to the full House for debate. Georgia's Republican governor vetoed a bill after big businesses said it would hurt the state.

Supporters of the Mississippi bill say it is designed to protect people from violating their own deeply held religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman; that sexual relations should only occur in such a marriage; and that a person's sex is determined at birth and is unchangeable.

Mississippi legislators are in the final two weeks of their session, and filing a new bill requires two-thirds approval of the House and Senate. An effort to file a bill would start in the House Rules Committee.

Responding to questions Tuesday about whether his committee will consider Hughes' request, Rules Chairman Jason White, R-West, said: "I would say not very likely. The same gentleman who held the press conference has spoken more than once against that particular piece of legislation."

The bill's main sponsor is House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton. The final version of the bill passed the Senate 32-17 and the House 69-44. A two-thirds margin to file a new bill, with all members voting, would take 35 votes in the Senate and 81 in the House.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said he's asking Gunn to "offer some redemption to Mississippi" by letting legislators reconsider the issue.

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Online: House Bill 1523, http://bit.ly/1Mq4DyE .

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .