California Democrats wanted to send a message when they passed a law five years ago banning taxpayer-funded travel to states that allow businesses to deny services to gay and transgender people.
California leaders took a stand, but they didn’t discourage Republican states from adopting those so-called religious freedom laws.
Since then, California has banned state-funded travel to 18 states, with a total population of 117 million people. That’s a little more than a third of the nation’s overall population.
You can’t drive across the country without passing through at least one state on the list.
The latest addition came in late September, when Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a ban on state-funded travel to Ohio over a new state law that lets doctors cite their moral or religious beliefs in denying care to a patient.
“Ohio’s decision to condone attacks on the health of its nearly 400,000 LGBTQ+ residents was widely opposed by the state’s medical community. It’s plain that this law only serves to discriminate,” said Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, who wrote California’s travel ban law. “We will never put Californians at risk of falling victim to the same toxic standard by supporting the use of taxpayer dollars for travel in places where anti-LGBTQ discrimination is the law of the land.”
California passed its travel restrictions in 2016 in response to Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which made it easier for people to demand exemptions from anti-discrimination laws by allowing lawsuits that challenge them on the basis of religious belief.
Businesses groups condemned the Indiana law, and then-Gov. Mike Pence later signed an amendment that was intended to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. Today, California does not ban state-funded travel to Indiana.
While the California travel ban law was intended to put pressure on conservative-leaning states not to pass anti-LGBT laws, in practice several of those states have gone ahead with such laws and California’s banned state list has grown considerably.
One state, North Carolina, was added to the list after lawmakers in that state passed a bill prohibiting transgender people from using the bathroom of their gender identity. Though North Carolina has since repealed that law, it remains in the banned list because of a law prohibiting cities and universities from passing their own anti-discrimination laws.
Other states on the banned travel list include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
All of the states on the travel ban list voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Republicans have full control of state government in almost all of them, with the exception of Kentucky and North Carolina, which have Democratic governors.
California still allows state-funded travel to the following states which voted for Trump: Alaska, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming.
The California law has exemptions for serious government business, such as law enforcement, tax collection, and those traveling for training events required for grants from the ban.
It is unclear how much of an impact the travel ban will have on college sports.
The University of California said in a statement that it “remains committed to promoting principles of equity and inclusion, and has been implementing AB 1887 in good faith by prohibiting the use of state funds to support travel to banned states.” Its schools continue to travel to states on the banned list when they use money raised from donors.
As for the California State University system, the chancellor’s office said in a statement that campuses have been informed of the addition of Ohio to the list of states banned under AB 1887.
“Athletic teams may still travel to an affected state in order to participate in an athletic competition as long as the team is in compliance with California state law and ensures that no state general fund dollars or tuition and fee revenue are used,” the CSU said in a statement. “Some teams may choose to travel to a banned state to comply with a contractual obligation reached before the law went into effect, or simply under the spirit of competition and the experience gained by competing against the best athletes in the nation.
This story was originally published October 4, 2021 1:46 PM.