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CA may ban travel to Texas, other states

by Matthew S. Bajko

 
   

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is considering adding Texas and three other states to the travel ban list his office oversees after the governors in the quartet of states signed anti-LGBT legislation into law in recent months.

[UPDATE: State employees in the Golden State are now banned from using taxpayer money for nonessential travel to the four states. Becerra announced the quartet fall under California's travel prohibition policy at a news conference in San Francisco Thursday (June 22). The move came just days prior to the city's annual Pride parade and less than a week after the Bay Area Reporter had inquired with Becerra if he would be adding the quartet of states to the list. END UPDATE]

The Bay Area Reporter has learned that in addition to the Lone Star State, Becerra's office is currently reviewing whether to also restrict state employees from using taxpayer money for non-essential travel to Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. The restrictions would also cover faculty, administrators, and athletic teams and student groups at state-run colleges and universities.

It is unclear, however, how soon Becerra will make a decision on updating the list of banned states, which currently includes three Bible Belt states and Kansas.

"I am never looking to add more states to the travel ban list. I would be happy if no state needs to be added," Becerra told the B.A.R. Friday, June 16 in a brief interview at the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco, where he was attending a news conference to announce several immigration initiatives.

But if a state decides to "violate the rights of Americans," then California has "the right to make sure our taxpayer money is not being used to promote that," added Becerra, who will be a keynote speaker this Sunday at the annual Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club's breakfast prior to San Francisco's Pride parade.

Becerra placed the blame for his having to take such an action on the leaders of the four states under review for their trampling on the rights of LGBT people and others. Last week Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 3859, which allows child welfare organizations â€" including adoption and foster care agencies â€" to cite their religious beliefs as the basis for not working with LGBTQ couples and other individuals.

In March, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law Senate Bill 149, which is similar to the Texas legislation. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey in May also signed into law similar legislation, House Bill 24, though it applies only to adoption agencies that do not receive state or federal funding.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin's signing into law in March Senate Bill 17, which allows high school and college student-run groups to bar LGBT people from being members based on religious grounds, triggered the review of his state by Becerra's office.

"It is not up to me to put this on California's plate for determination. It is up to those states," said Becerra. "They put it up to me to act on whether a state is added to the list."

As for when he would make a decision, Becerra said "in due speed," noting that his staff must first prepare an analysis laying out the rationale for why a state should be placed on the travel ban list.

"I don't take this lightly," said Becerra. "I look at it this way. California is not violating someone's rights. We are trying to protect people's rights."

Gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who co-hosted last week's news conference, told the B.A.R. it is "great" that Becerra's office has the four states under review. He said he would have the Legislative LGBT Caucus "send the AG office a letter to make sure we expedite the travel ban list process."

Slow to expand list

Since being confirmed in January as California's attorney general, Becerra has yet to expand the number of states on the travel ban list, which includes Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee in addition to Kansas. Former attorney general Kamala Harris, now the state's junior U.S. senator, had authorized the initial list of states last fall prior to the ban's enactment January 1.

Under legislation authored by gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) and signed into law last year by Governor Jerry Brown, any state that has enacted legislation that discriminates against LGBT people since June 26, 2015 is supposed to be placed on the travel ban list. In April Becerra's office announced it would not remove North Carolina from the banned list of states after lawmakers in the Tar Heel State repealed the controversial HB 2 that had mandated transgender people use public bathrooms based on the gender they were assigned at birth.

He made that decision because local jurisdictions in North Carolina cannot enact ordinances to prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in public accommodations or private employment. That stipulation is expected to sunset in 2020.

"California's law was enacted to ensure that, with limited exceptions, our taxpayer resources are not spent in states that authorize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. North Carolina's new law does not cure the infirmity of this type of discrimination," Becerra stated at the time.

Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur told the B.A.R. last week that the statewide LGBT advocacy group has been working with Becerra's office on its review of the four states under consideration for addition to the travel ban list. EQCA had co-sponsored the law establishing it.

While he acknowledged the slow pace it has taken to reach a decision, Zbur stressed that the attorney general and his staff must follow the process outlined in the legislation. He did note that Becerra's office had expedited its review of Texas.

"It is a little bit slower than just having a single person take a look at the law, which is typical for government," said Zbur. "The attorney general has been acting pretty expeditiously on these laws. He is one of our strongest allies and is close to making a determination on all four states."

Zbur indicated he expects all four states will be added to the list.

"I am optimistic the attorney general will follow the law on these and, hopefully as they occur, states will understand the law is in place and will have an impact," he said.

As of May 9 Santa Clara County had restricted its employees from traveling to nine states with discriminatory LGBT laws on their books. The South Bay jurisdiction's policy now covers Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

The Board of Supervisors in Santa Clara County enacted the ban in 2015 and gave the county executive power to approve travel to the restricted states on a case-by-case basis. The Office of the County Counsel reviews the banned list on a quarterly basis to determine if it needs to be updated.

Santa Cruz County also enacted its own non-essential travel ban policy and currently restricts its employees from going to North Carolina and Mississippi. It allows for the county counsel to recommend that the supervisors add more states to the list if they pass "discriminatory laws that deny equal protection to GLBT persons."

Supervisor John Leopold, who co-sponsored the policy, told the B.A.R. that he intends to work with the county counsel later this summer on updating the list.

"We are about to start our budget hearings next week so we won't have a regular board meeting until August. We will be discussing these states with our counsel and possibly bring something to our board when we return from our summer recess," Leopold wrote in an emailed reply. "Our board has been fully committed to using our resources to not help states that do not honor the civil rights of all residents."

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors enacted the toughest policy against states with anti-LGBT laws, as it not only restricts non-essential travel to such states but also bans city agencies from contracting with businesses headquartered in those states. Its list of banned states as of March had included Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, and South Dakota.

Asked last week if Texas, Kentucky, and Alabama would be added to the list, neither City Administrator Naomi Kelly, whose office oversees the banned list, nor her policy aide, Jack Gallagher, responded to the B.A.R.'s inquiry.

When asked by the B.A.R. about the anti-LGBT policies enacted by the trio of states at his annual Pride flag raising ceremony at City Hall Monday night, Mayor Ed Lee condemned the legislation. Of the adoption restrictions in particular, Lee noted, "children are growing up in wonderful lesbian and gay households" because "gay and lesbian parents are excellent."

As for adding the three states to the city's travel ban list, Lee said he would be conferring with his staff and members of the board and "whether we take action will come out of those discussions." Pressed on how soon the city would act, Lee said a decision would come "in the next few weeks."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy told the B.A.R. there is no question the city should ban travel to, and contracting with businesses in, Texas, Kentucky, and Alabama.

"Absolutely," said Sheehy. "They should do it as soon as possible."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, and state Senator Ricardo Lara announced several immigration initiatives at a news conference at the LGBT Community Center. Photo: Rick Gerharter

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