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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate seeking compromise with Democrats on pastor protections



A Senate Republican and Democrat are working together to change legislation intended to protect pastors from lawsuits if they refuse to marry gay couples.

Bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, postponed a vote Tuesday on the Pastor Protection Act (SB 110) at the request of Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

"Chair Simmons asked me to put it on hold and see if we can’t listen to the other side, and that’s what we’re doing," Bean said.

Before the bill comes up on the Senate floor again -- as early as next week -- Simmons is working with Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, on a compromise that would appease lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups, Soto said.

The amendment will be based on language that failed in the Senate Rules Committee, which LGBT group Equality Florida supported. That language took the definition of religious organizations from the state's civil rights statutes, which religious activist groups opposed.

"The whole point was to have a clearer definition of religious organizations," Soto said.

Although Simmons is working with a Democrat to find language that the minority party might be more willing to support, Bean says he has the votes needed to pass the legislation on the Senate floor.

"The plan is to see if there is any additional legitimate questions that we could answer and then we would come back and push that next week," he said. "I will consider amendments that don’t jeopardize the integrity of the bill."

The original language in Bean's bill is awaiting a vote in the House.

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 1:48pm]


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