Capitol Alert

From football to taxes: How California’s ban on travel to bathroom-bill states will play out in 2017

California cops and tax auditors can follow their investigations wherever they lead, but the Bruins and Golden Bears may need to think twice before scheduling an out-of-state football game.

That’s the gist of how California’s ban on publicly funded travel to states with laws seen as discriminating against LGBT people could unfold.

California’s ban has exemptions for just about every kind of serious state business, allowing state employees to testify in lawsuits, or the state’s two tax boards to travel for audits. Police, too, can run down leads in banned states.

But California’s public universities will have to avoid athletic competitions in a group of states that as of this week likely will include Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee, according to a memo from Attorney General Kamala Harris. The law also will block state employees from attending most conferences, and it will curtail other kinds of discretionary travel among state universities.

Both UC Berkeley and UCLA have high-profile football games scheduled in banned states next fall. The UCLA Bruins have an away game scheduled against the University of Memphis on Sept. 16. Cal’s Golden Bears play at the University of North Carolina on Sept. 2.

Neither California school plans to cancel its game, citing an exemption in the restrictions that allows them to fulfill commitments they made before Jan. 1.

Those September matchups may be the last time the California schools play in those states for a long time, unless laws change.

“Moving forward, however, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law,” UCLA spokesman Tod Tamberg said.

North Carolina’s Legislature this week rejected a measure that would have repealed its so-called “bathroom bill” and likely would have lifted California’s travel restrictions on that state. In voting to keep the law in place, North Carolina Republican state Sen. Buck Newton slammed “the hateful crowd from California and elsewhere” for stirring up opposition to it.

The “bathroom bill” overturned a local ordinance in Charlotte that extended some workplace and commercial protections to gays and transgender people. The state law prohibited local governments from passing measures like Charlotte’s, and it mandated that people use public restrooms according to their biological sex.

Religious advocacy groups celebrated after the North Carolina repeal failed.

“We continue to encourage our leaders to never sacrifice the privacy, safety, or freedom of young girls by forcing them to use the bathroom, shower, or change clothes with grown men just to satisfy the demands of greedy businesses, immoral sports organizations, or angry mobs. Nor should they sacrifice the freedom of everyone to live and work according to their beliefs,” Tami Fitzgerald of the North Carolina Values Coalition said after the vote.

California lawmakers led by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, pushed for the travel ban in response to Indiana’s 2015 “religious freedom restoration act,” which makes it easier for businesses to seek exemption from anti-discrimination laws. The California ban does not apply to Indiana. Indiana under Gov. Mike Pence modified its initial law after hearing complaints from businesses and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Low wrote the California ban to protect state employees who may feel discrimination if their jobs compel them to travel to a community where they feel their rights are not respected.

Also, the ban becomes a kind of boycott, withholding California taxpayer dollars from certain states.

“We are one of the largest economies in the world, and we the state of California are not going to let our state’s market power be used to support that kind of invidious discrimination,” said David B. Cruz, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.

In the past two years, other states have followed Indiana’s lead. North Carolina’s became the most famous, prompting Bruce Springsteen to pull the plug on an April concert, the National Basketball Association to move its All Star Game out of Charlotte and the NCAA to relocate championship games it had scheduled there.

Backlash to the law contributed to the defeat of outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory, the only sitting Republican governor to lose his seat on Election Day. Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington also have banned publicly funded travel to North Carolina.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is make sure there is a cost to adopting these anti-LGBT laws in the state,” said Rick Zbur, the executive director Equality California, a gay rights organization that supported Low’s bill.

California’s Department of Human Resources and attorney general’s office distributed memos last month outlining how they’d interpret the ban. Going forward, it will apply to states that adopt laws like North Carolina’s.

The Human Resources memo also says state employees cannot accept money from third party groups to pay for travel to the banned states. That means private sponsors could not pay to have experts from California colleges speak at conferences.

The state attorney general’s office has the final say on which states would be on the list of banned states. It has not yet published its findings. Its Nov. 17 memo said the ban would apply to the Legislature, as well as state boards and commissions.

Spokesmen for the UC campuses said they’re still waiting for guidance on the travel ban from the UC Office of the President. Claire Doan, a spokeswoman for the president’s office, said those directions would be handed down within the next few weeks.

A look at recent athletic competitions showed that large and small public universities from California often travel to banned states. In the last season, Humboldt State University’s football played a game in Tennessee. Tiny UC Merced’s cross-country team sent two athletes and a coach to a championship meet in Charlotte.

The men’s soccer team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo participated in a North Carolina tournament. Those players aren’t returning any time soon.

“There are no future plans to travel to North Carolina in any of our sports,” said Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier.

Away from college sports, the most frequent travelers from California government to North Carolina are representatives from the Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board. Those agencies regularly do business in Charlotte, a major financial center that’s also home to Bank of America’s headquarters. The Franchise Tax Board plans to travel there at least 50 times in 2017.

Neither tax board will be asked to reduce travel to banned states.

“Audits of some of the country’s largest corporations often require physical presence. Their returns can be tens of thousands of pages long, involve terabytes of data, their tax positions often shift, and we need direct dialogue with company reps to address any issues found during our review,” said FTB spokesman Jacob Roper.

Other departments will have an easier time avoiding prohibited states. Caltrans employees made seven trips to North Carolina in 2015 for different projects and conferences. Caltrans is not going back to the state in 2017, or planning any travel to Mississippi or Tennessee.

North Carolina contains the country’s largest Army post, Fort Bragg, which is a magnet for military training. California National Guard members would be able to travel there for training while they’re on federal orders, spokesman Col. Peter Cross said.

The law has an exemption for public safety, which should allow California National Guard members to deploy in response to natural disasters.

Members of the Guard, however, likely would not be able to travel to states on the banned list on the state’s dime. That could inhibit their ability to attend summits with emergency management planners in the Southeast.

“That is so rare,” Cross said, because the state’s military department most often focuses on partnering with peers in Western states.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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