State Watch

California lawmakers vote to repeal travel ban to states with anti-LGBTQ laws

California lawmakers voted Tuesday to lift a law that bans publicly funded travel to states that have enacted laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people, sending the measure to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for final approval.

The proposed law, Senate Bill 447, would repeal California’s travel prohibition and replace it with an outreach campaign that encourages LGBTQ acceptance and inclusivity in red states, where a majority of anti-LGBTQ bills were passed this year.

“What we need is messaging that really goes to the heart of what regular people all across this country want, which is to live in peace,” said California state Sen. Toni Atkins (D), the bill’s primary sponsor and the first openly LGBTQ person to lead the Legislature as Senate president.

The bill, also known as the BRIDGE Project, passed the state Senate by a final vote of 31-6 on Tuesday. The state Assembly voted 64-12 to pass the bill Monday. An urgency clause added to the measure means it would take effect immediately if signed into law.

Atkins’s bill seeks to repeal a 2016 law prohibiting California from sponsoring travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws to “avoid supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The original law — Assembly Bill 1887 — was passed in response to North Carolina’s 2016 passage of House Bill 2, a controversial measure that banned transgender people from using public restrooms matching their gender identity. The North Carolina law, which sparked widespread backlash and nearly cost the state billions of dollars in lost business, was partially repealed in 2017 and fully repealed in 2020.

Since 2016, the list of states subject to California’s ban on state-funded travel has ballooned to 26, preventing state workers — including university professors and elected officials — from visiting more than half the country on state-sponsored trips.

In July, state Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) announced California would restrict travel to Missouri, Nebraska and Wyoming as a result of recently enacted anti-LGBTQ legislation in those states.

This has been a record-breaking year for legislation targeting the LGBTQ community, with nearly 500 bills introduced in more than 40 states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. At least 84 have become law, more than doubling last year’s total.

Atkins in a June op-ed wrote that while banning state-funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws was “the right thing to do” in 2016, continuing to do so is no longer an effective — or sustainable — way to take a stand against such legislation.

It has also led to unintended consequences, Atkins and other state Democrats have argued.

“In many instances, the travel ban has inadvertently caused California to isolate its services and citizens in a time when we are leading the nation in ensuring inclusivity and freedom,” Democratic Assemblymember Rick Zbur, the former executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality California, said Monday on the Assembly floor.

“If something is not working, I think it’s imperative on us to be able to switch gears,” said Assemblymember Chris Ward, a Democrat and vice chairman of the Legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus. “This bill is going to be able to provide that support and nurturing that I know a lot of our fellow Americans are lacking right now.”

The bill now heads to Newsom, who has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign it into law.

Tags California Gavin Newsom LGBTQ rights Rob Bonta toni atkins