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House Bill 4012 - House of Delegates Passes the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

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The West Virginia House of Delegates passed the "West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act" on February 11, 2016.

The Act would allow a person to seek an injunction or declaratory relief to prevent State action from placing a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion. The Act would also allow a person to assert as a defense in a civil proceeding that state action has substantially burdened their free exercise of religion. If successful, the person claiming such a burden may obtain relief in the form of an injunction or declaratory relief, as well as the reimbursement of costs and attorney fees from the State of West Virginia or from local governments, such as counties and towns.

Though a similar bill was introduced and defeated in prior sessions, the House overwhelmingly adopted House Bill 4012 by a 72-26 vote. Some proponents of the Act have stated that the Act is intended to reaffirm religious freedom rights under the First Amendment and the West Virginia Constitution, while other supporters have been clear that the bill was introduced as a direct response to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Opponents of the measure have characterized it as an attempt to undermine the recognition of same-sex marriage and also claim that the Act could have an economic impact on West Virginia, referring to a similar measure adopted in Indiana that has reportedly led to the loss of millions of dollars in revenues from groups who have refused to hold events in Indiana because of their opposition to the law.

While most of the coverage of this bill, and others like it around the nation, has focused on the bill's more political aspects, it is important to note that the Act would subject the State and local governments to monetary penalties where a law or some other action by the State or a local government is found to place a substantial burden on one's exercise of religion, meaning that the bill could have a direct economic impact on State and local government budgets. This bill has not yet reached the Governor's office, but Governor Tomblin has previously indicated that he will veto the bill if passed by both houses of the legislature

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