Editorial: Amend, don't repeal, CA travel ban

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday April 5, 2023
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Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Photo: Twitter
Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Photo: Twitter

Lesbian state Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) surprised many last week — including us — when she introduced legislation that would repeal California's law prohibiting publicly funded travel to states that have anti-LGBTQ laws. This "no-fly" list now has 23 states, including some big ones, like Florida and Texas. But Atkins' idea to replace the travel ban with a donation-driven (and possibly taxpayer-supported) fund called the Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supporting Equality Act, or BRIDGE, seems short on specifics and outcomes. Amending the travel ban law would be more effective. If the travel ban's intent was to get those states to repeal their anti-LGBTQ laws, it hasn't worked — as evidenced by the addition of states every year since the ban went into effect in 2017 — and replacing it with what's essentially a marketing campaign seems prone to being equally ineffective. We don't see lawmakers in red states suddenly demonstrating a conscience by seeking to undo the anti-LGBTQ laws they've authored or governors deciding to veto such legislation. Heck, we don't even see those leaders acknowledging California for repealing the ban. The country is polarized. This year alone, the American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 430 anti-LGBTQ bills promulgated by right-wing politicians, media outlets, and churches.

Rather, Atkins' Senate Bill 447 seems like it's designed to offer support to LGBTQ people in those red states by showing public service-type ads that will "help build a bridge of inclusion and acceptance," as she stated in a news release, while discouraging discrimination. During a press briefing with reporters last week, Atkins was asked several times if Assembly Bill 1887, the travel ban authored by gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), was a failure. She denied that. "I think 1887 was successful. We saw states like North Carolina and Georgia that had a positive impact. It was effective in what we were trying to do," she said, referring to the moving of the NCAA men's basketball tournament games out of the Tar Heel State in 2016, before the law took effect. "I think we sent a message loud and clear."

Atkins, who said that she voted for AB 1887, also told reporters that she has talked to Low, who, so far at least, doesn't seem to be on board with jettisoning his own law. "We shouldn't completely end California's state-funded travel ban without having an alternative action in combating discrimination," Low wrote on Twitter March 29, repeating a similar stance he took with the Bay Area Reporter earlier in the month. "We can't back down, especially as a record amount of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is being introduced." He has a point.

Atkins, who last year campaigned for the successful California Proposition 1, which enshrined the right to abortion into the state constitution, and has long worked on reproductive rights legislation, also offered this: she told reporters that because of the travel ban, the state can pay for transportation for people to come here for an abortion, but "we actually couldn't legitimately spend money to send them home." (The state last year set aside $20 million to help people in other states come here for abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which led many red states to institute immediate restrictions.)

We realize that the travel ban has had unintended consequences, like the abortion funding snafu above. In another example, instructors at state universities and colleges can't use school funds to travel to states on the no-fly list to conduct research on issues affecting LGBTQ people living there. But we don't see SB 447 as the answer and amending the travel ban law is a preferable option. Lawmakers do this regularly, cleaning up past bills to improve them by carving out exceptions or other measures.

This would be a better route, especially since Governor Gavin Newsom just one day later launched his own Campaign for Democracy political action committee and infused it with a $10 million transfer from his campaign account. That's right. Newsom is traveling to many of those red states on the no-fly list and apparently wants to broadcast television commercials and social media messages in the hopes of persuading residents to reject what Newsom calls "authoritarian leaders." His video rollout included criticisms of Republican leaders "who ban books, criminalize doctors, fire teachers, intimidate librarians, kidnap migrants, target trans kids, stoke racism, and condone antisemitism." Sounds like the same audience Atkins wants to reach, albeit with her ads focusing more on LGBTQ issues. If both of these campaigns get up and running, red state residents could be bombarded with gauzy messages about how great California is. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Here's another idea: instead of spending all of this money to broadcast supportive messages to LGBTQs in red states, California lawmakers and the governor should work harder trying to find the funds for the various LGBTQ bills that have been vetoed because of their high price tags. Last year, as we reported, Newsom vetoed legislation aimed at helping lower-income state residents access treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Senate Bill 1234, the STI Prevention & Treatment Fairness Act, had sought to expand access to services for the prevention and treatment of STIs to income-eligible patients who have confidentiality concerns, including LGBTQ+ patients, through the state's Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment program. While an analysis could not provide a specific dollar figure, the bill was expected to cost in the tens of millions of dollars, including federal funds, and about $9 million from the state's general fund.

Newsom last year also vetoed a bill that would have instructed the state Department of Social Services to launch a five-year pilot project called the Youth Acceptance Project in counties that volunteered to sign up for it. The state agency would have entered into a contract with the nonprofit Family Builders by Adoption to provide therapeutic-style support and intervention services to LGBTQ+ youth who receive, or are at risk of receiving, child welfare services. This, too, had a significant price tag, Newsom noted.

Many LGBTQ youth and adults in red states are facing prejudice and hostility from their own governments, religious leaders, families, and schools. A few 30-second ads extolling the virtues of California, or LGBTQ leaders telling them they have support, are not going to do much for the day-to-day discrimination they face.

Amend AB 1887.

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