The State Worker

What travel ban? UCLA heading to Memphis for Sweet 16, despite ‘religious freedom’ law

Ignore the fighting words between state lawmakers: California’s ban on publicly funded travel to “bathroom bill” states won’t block UCLA’s trip to the Big Dance this week.

The Bruins are punching their tickets to the Sweet 16 in Memphis even though Tennessee is on California’s list of no-go destinations under a new law that prohibits travel to states with policies that Golden State leaders consider to be discriminatory.

A UCLA spokesman told The Bee in December that the school will not schedule athletic games in banned states.

Since then, UCLA has decided that it won’t “deny our student-athletes the right to participate in postseason play,” according to a report in the Wichita Eagle. That means the campus is not letting the travel ban stand in the way of the NCAA tournament.

The California law, adopted in response to a North Carolina measure that requires people using restrooms in government buildings to choose the one that corresponds to their gender at birth, has triggered conflicting interpretations about how universities should apply it to college sports. Tennessee made the list because of a law allowing therapists to deny services to gay and transgender clients.

On one hand, leaders from UC and California State University campuses have said they will not schedule games in states on the banned list. On the other, they have noted that they do not use public funds for certain athletic events, and they retain the choice of attending marquee events.

Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, has asked the state Department of Justice to settle the question. In response to the request, the department in February assigned a senior attorney to issue a formal opinion.

In fact, Tennessee’s inclusion on the travel ban irked that state’s lawmakers so much that they adopted their own resolution last week condemning California’s law.

It read in part: “Tennessee is puzzled why California thinks it is a good idea to prohibit its state colleges and universities from participating in athletic competition in Tennessee.”

It also said, “California's attempt to influence public policy in our state is akin to Tennessee expressing its disapproval of California's exorbitant taxes, spiraling budget deficits, runaway social welfare programs, and rampant illegal immigration.”

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, sponsored the California law and touted it as a stand against “bigotry and hatred.” It was intended both to prevent state workers from being compelled to visit communities where they would feel unwelcome, and also to discourage states from passing laws like North Carolina’s “bathroom bill.”

The state Department of Justice has determined the law applies to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. The states have so-called religious freedom laws to make it easier for people to demand exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

The NCAA itself has moved to avoid states with the religious freedom laws. In September, it relocated seven NCAA-sponsored events in North Carolina, including the men’s basketball tournament.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the organization’s Board of Regents chose to act on North Carolina’s law but not the others because of several factors that make North Carolina’s measure more expansive than its counterparts.

For instance, North Carolina’s law invalidates local anti-discrimination measures and allows government officials to refuse services to gay and transgender people. North Carolina’s law also is the only one with restrictions on bathroom access in government buildings.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at sacbee.com/newsletters.

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