SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California may soon lift a ban on state-funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws and instead focus on an advertising campaign to bring anti-discrimination messages to red states.
California started banning official travel to states with laws it deemed discriminatory against LGBTQ+ people in 2017, starting with Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. Since then, the list has grown to include a total of 26 states, most of them Republican-led, following a surge of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation these past few years.
The prohibition has prevented elected officials, state workers and university scholars from traveling to more than half of the country using the state's money. That has posed a significant challenge to sports teams at public colleges and universities, which have had to find alternative funding sources to pay for their road games in states like Arizona and Utah. It has also complicated some of the state’s other policy goals, like using state money to pay for people who live in other states to travel to California for abortions.
California lawmakers in the state Assembly on Monday passed legislation to end the travel ban. The bill, introduced by state Senate leader Toni Atkins, would also establish an outreach and advertising campaign in states on the travel ban list to promote pro-LGBTQ+ messages. Atkins, who is a lesbian, said the travel ban has helped raise awareness about many anti-LGBTQ+ issues, but it has also led to unintended consequences.
“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,” said Democratic Assemblymember Rick Zbur, the former executive director of the advocacy group Equality California. “With nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills having been introduced in legislatures nationwide this year alone, now more than ever, we need to reach into those communities with messages of support, inclusivity and understanding.”
Some Republicans voted against overturning the ban, but there was no debate.
The bill will head to the Senate for a final vote before landing on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. The Democratic governor has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign it into law. The governor's office said he will evaluate the bill on its merits.
The reversal on the travel ban comes amid intense political battles across the country over transgender rights, including efforts to impose bans on gender-affirming care, bar trans athletes from girls and women’s sports, and require schools to notify parents if their children ask to use different pronouns or changes their gender identity.
The legislation is among nearly 1,000 bills that lawmakers have been debating during the hectic final two weeks of the Legislative session. The Legislature has until Sept. 14 to act on these bills.
IN-STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE TUITION FOR MEXICAN RESIDENTS
The Assembly also voted to send a bill to Newsom that would allow some low-income Mexican residents living within 45 miles (72 kilometers) of the California-Mexico border to get in-state tuition at certain community colleges in Southern California. If approved, this pilot program would be in effect until 2029.
Supporters of the bill say it would help expand access to education for eligible students and help them enter the workforce in the future. That includes Southern California advocacy group Los Amigos de la Comunidad, which in English means “Friends of the Community.”
“There are barriers to education at all levels,” said Eric Montoya Reyes, the group’s executive director. “It can be burdensome to add another obstacle of nonresident fees to their ability to get an education.”
NEW RULES FOR SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS
The California Senate voted to require self-driving semitrucks to always have a human present to oversee it.
California has been at the forefront of self-driving vehicles. Last month, state regulators allowed two companies to operate autonomous taxis in San Francisco.
Labor unions are worried the technology could soon be applied to semitrucks, replacing drivers at the heart of the nation's $900 billion trucking industry. The bill lawmakers approved on Monday would not ban self-driving semitrucks. But it would require a human to be present.
The bill now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who must decide whether to sign it into law. His administration has signaled its opposition to the bill , arguing it would stifle innovation.
NEW RULES FOR CONCEALED CARRY PERMITS
The California Assembly on Monday voted to ban people from carrying guns in most public places.
The new rules come after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year changed how the courts interpret gun laws. California lawmakers tried to pass new rules last year, but they failed because of a tactical error on the final day of the legislative session.
This year, lawmakers tried again. The bill bans people from carrying guns in privately owned commercial businesses that are open to the public — unless the business posts a sign saying guns are OK. The bill bans carrying guns in nearly every other public place, including schools, courts, government buildings, prisons, hospitals, airports, zoos, churches, zoos, museums, amusement parks and banks.
The bill has already passed the state Senate, but it requires one more vote before lawmakers can send it to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk.
INCREASING PENALTIES FOR HUMAN TRAFFICKERS
A bill that would increase the penalties for child traffickers cleared another key hurdle Monday.
The bill, which Newsom stepped in to revive after it was blocked in an Assembly committee in July, passed the state Assembly with a unanimous vote.
The bill would add child trafficking to a list of serious felonies in California. Anyone convicted of at least three serious felonies faces a prison sentence of between 25 years to life in prison under the state’s three-strikes law.
Some lawmakers initially opposed the bill, concerned it could inadvertently punish child trafficking victims with lengthy prison penalties. Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove, the author of the bill, added an amendment to protect victims from the enhanced penalties.
The bill will need a final vote from the Senate before heading to Newsom’s desk.
Associated Press reporters Sophie Austin and Adam Beam contributed. Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin @sophieadanna
Trân Nguyễn, The Associated Press