DES MOINES — Business groups argued the pros and cons of legislation that cleared a Senate subcommittee Monday and that backers say is designed to bring Iowa in line with federal standards in providing them religious-freedom protections.

Members of a Senate Local Government subcommittee voted 2-1 to approve a bill that would provide a claim or defense to a person whose exercise of freedom is substantially burdened by government action. Senate Study Bill 3171 could create a “strict scrutiny test” for the courts to use in such cases.

Small business owners Dick and Betty Odgaard said current state law provided them no protection when a gay couple asked them to make their facilities available for a same-sex wedding and reception that went counter to their religious beliefs.

“It’s not to take rights or freedom away from anybody,” Dick Odgaard told the panel. “It’s to restore ours. Our system is very tilted.”

However, representatives of large companies, such as Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group, warned passage of the religious-freedom legislation would have a “chilling effect” on Iowa companies that conduct international business and to recruit skilled workers to Iowa.

In addition, Des Moines business leaders worried legislative action could jeopardize the city’s ability to qualify as a 2019 NCAA regional basketball site or land other major conventions.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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