Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Says He 'Could Have Handled' Religious Freedom Law Better

He wants a new piece of legislation to clarify anti-discrimination stance.

ByABC News
March 31, 2015, 6:07 PM

— -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence today admitted that he mishandled the passage of a religious freedom law and now wants a piece of legislation to clarify that it does not give anyone the right to discriminate in the state.

"This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples. I could have handled that better this week," he said.

His comments came hours before the state House of Representatives in Arkansas passed amendments to a similar religious freedom bill that is expected to be codified into law when the governor signs the complete version, which he has already announced that he plans to do.

In Indiana, Pence said that he has been working with state legislators and businesses “literally around the clock” to work through the controversy, saying that discrimination was never part of his plan.

"I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intention of the general assembly. ... It certainly wasn’t my intent but I can appreciate that that's become the perception ... and we need to confront that and we need to confront that boldly,” he said.

The changes that Pence mentioned are expected to be put into a stripped version of an election-related bill that is slated to be debated Wednesday or Thursday by a conference committee, Indiana's Republican speaker of the House's spokesman Brian Bosma told ABC News.

The new language is expected to be debated throughout the night between business leaders, state legislators and stakeholders.

“As I said we've got a perception problem here ... and we intend to correct that," Pence said this morning.

He slammed “gross mischaracterizations about the bill” and the smeared reputations of Hoosiers as a result of the backlash.

“We want to make it clear that Indiana is open for business, we want to make it clear that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan it's a way of life,” he said.

"The things that have been said about our state have been at times deeply offensive to me and I will continue to use every effort to defend the good and decent people of Indiana," Pence added.

The controversial law -- called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- was signed by Pence last week and prompted national outcry from human rights groups and businesses, though a number of likely Republican presidential candidates have all come out in support of the law.

"It's been a tough week here in the Hoosier state but we're going to move forward," he said today.

Pence told ABC News this weekend that he would not be adding sexual orientation as a protected class in any amendment to the law. He specifically referenced the This Week appearance during today's press conference, saying that "going into that interview this weekend I was just determined to set the record straight about what the law really is."

Infographic: How do other state laws compare to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act?
A closer look at what other states have similar legislation on the books.

He has followed that interview up with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and a news appearance this morning where he adamantly stated that he stands by the law.

State Democratic leaders slammed Pence for calling for additional legislation to clarify Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law, calling for the law to be repealed fully.

Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said Republicans are “doubling down” by asking for until they stop doubling down they're going to have a tough time convincing people that they're the right mechanics to fix this problem.

“I see some indication that there’s an awareness that he’s in a difficult political situation,” Pelath said in reference to Pence’s news conference this morning. “I don’t see any indication that there’s a willingness to admit that a mistake has been made."

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane said that the religious freedom bill is “very, very toxic and very, very wrong,” and the repercussions are being felt in business communities as a “growing list” of national corporations speak out against their future plans to operate in the state.

“What’s happened here is that this situation created by this bill has gone beyond being about just about the bill... to the very question of does Indiana discriminate,” Lanane said.

The debate over the future of the Indiana law comes at the same time as Arkansas was in the process of passing a similar bill.

Arkansas's state House of Representatives had already passed a "religious freedom" bill but the state's Senate added some amendments which were voted on, and passed, this afternoon. A spokeswoman for the House of Representatives confirmed to ABC News that all three amendments passed with overwhelming majorities and that the bill would now be sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk, who has already said he will sign it.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in addition to Indiana and Arkansas there are 10 other states with similar bills in the works and 19 states already have similar laws in place.

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