LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House gave final passage Friday to a bill that would bar cities and counties from passing ordinances that would prohibit discrimination on any basis not in state law.

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House gave final passage Friday to a bill that would bar cities and counties from passing ordinances that would prohibit discrimination on any basis not in state law.


House members also approved and sent to the Senate a bill that seeks to protect Arkansans from government policies that "burden" their right to exercise religion. Opponents say both measures seek to protect discrimination, particularly discrimination against gays.


Senate Bill 202 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, the bill on anti-discrimination ordinances, passed in the House in a 58-21 vote. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday he will allow the bill to become law without his signature.


A bill becomes law in Arkansas five days after reaching the governor’s desk if the governor does not sign or veto it. Arkansas governors traditionally have used this option when they do not support a bill but do not believe they could veto it without an override, which requires a simple majority vote in both chambers.


"Senate Bill 202 passed with significant margins in the General Assembly, and I have a high regard for the discussion in the Legislature and respect for the legislative process," Hutchinson said in a statement.


"As governor, I recognize the desire to prevent burdensome regulations on businesses across the state. However, I am concerned about the loss of local control. For that reason, I am allowing the bill to become law without my signature," he said.


Asked by reporters if he had concerns that the bill was discriminatory, Hutchinson said, "I don’t think that’s what’s at issue here."


Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, presented SB 202 on the Senate floor. He said the bill would prevent ordinances like one the Fayetteville City Council approved in August that included prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public services. Fayetteville voters repealed the ordinance in December.


SB 202 "creates a uniformity for our businesses, and citizens for that matter, to know things like our employment laws are going to be the same throughout the state," Ballinger said.


Several House members spoke for and against the bill. Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said the bill is unconstitutional, is bad for business, takes away local control and is morally wrong.


Tucker said his paternal grandfather was president of the Little Rock School Board and fought to integrate the district in the late 1950s, and his maternal grandfather was president of the Fort Smith School Board and fought to integrate that district in the early 1960s. He said his grandfathers took unpopular positions because they knew they were right and said he was speaking against SB 202 for the same reason.


"I would ask you to look to your heart, to look to our common decency and fundamental humanity, and ask yourself whether we as a state want to be a state that takes a proactive act of discrimination. I don’t believe that’s the type of people we are," he said.


Speaking for the bill, Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, said, "I don’t think … a baker that loves the word of God, that’s bringing her children up to honor God and to worship God, should have her business destroyed because she doesn’t want to bake a cake for somebody that’s a transgender trying to marry somebody else."


House Bill 1228 by Ballinger, titled the Conscience Protection Act, passed in the House in a 70-20 vote. The bill would bar the state from burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless doing so furthers a compelling government interest and the state uses the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.


As an example, Ballinger said the law likely would require a school to make an exception to a rule against hats if a Jewish student wanted to wear a yarmulke on a holy day.


Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill.


"I would be more comfortable if Mr. Ballinger explicitly indicated that this bill could not apply to persons who are of different sexual orientation or persuasion, or other special characteristics such as perhaps being of a religious minority," he said.


Ballinger said after the vote that HB 1228 would apply in the case of a baker who refused to make a cake for a gay or transgender person, although he said that "it doesn’t mean you automatically win."


Ballinger also said he believes that gay rights and civil rights for blacks are different issues because people are born into their race but sexual orientation is "a choice."


The House also voted 83-4 to approve and send to the Senate HB 1053 by Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, which would require mortgage reassignments and releases to be recorded. Fite said the bill would help consumers, title companies and county clerks keep track of what company holds a mortgage.


Rep. Laurie Rushing, R-Hot Springs, spoke against the bill, saying real estate agents and mortgage bankers are concerned that adding new regulations would hinder the secondary mortgage market and raise costs that would be passed on to consumers.


House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, urged House members to vote for the bill. He said Fite took her bill to the interested parties before running it in committee, and that parties who had agreed to support it or taken no position were suddenly trying to kill it.


"I’m speaking to … the integrity of the process," he said, adding that the bill could be amended in the Senate if there are genuine problems with it.


The House voted 90-2 to approve HB 1106 by Rep. Marshall Wright, D-Forrest City. Under the bill, if a city can find no city resident willing or able to fill a seat on a parks and recreation commission, the city council could pass an ordinance allowing a county resident to serve in the position. The bill goes to the Senate.


The Senate did not meet Friday.