Travel ban in California hurting college sports, lawmaker says

San Diego State’s men’s basketball team took the court Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but California’s multistate travel ban meant the trip to Wichita, Kansas, was more arduous than usual.

Under a California law that took effect last year, state universities and public agencies are prohibited from using state money to travel to Kansas and seven other states with laws deemed discriminatory toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

That meant San Diego State’s athletic department had to use private funds to pay for travel to Wichita. The university faced the same situation last year when its football team was invited to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

But one California lawmaker has introduced Assembly Bill 2389 to change that and allow California colleges to use taxpayer money for athletic and academic trips to the banned states.

“I don’t think we should have a situation where California is boycotting parts of the United States,” said Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach. He believes the ban causes headaches for UC and CSU sports programs that cannot schedule games in Kansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee or Texas. “Who is going to want to be a member of a (state university) team if they can’t compete against the best because the state Legislature has decided for political reasons that they can’t travel to some states?” Harper said. “It goes across the board and impacts all sports.”

The banned states have enacted so-called religious freedom laws that allow discrimination “on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” according to the language in Assembly Bill 1887, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2016.

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, authored AB 1887 and said it prevents taxpayer dollars from funding bigotry and hatred. His bill included exemptions for most types of state business, allowing law enforcement, tax auditors and other state workers to use taxpayer dollars when traveling to the banned states. However, UC and CSU staff and students do not enjoy such exemptions.

Low said he has heard from university administrators who respect the intent of the ban and has heard of academic conferences moving out of the banned states. The spirit of the law is to prevent taxpayer dollars from “subsidizing discrimination,” he said.

“I had hoped that we would not need this legislation, but it’s imperative that we demonstrate the fundamental principles of inclusions versus exclusion,” Low said.

San Diego State is not prevented from traveling to Wichita to compete in the Big Dance. Although UC and CSU leaders have said they will not schedule games in states on the banned list, teams are not prevented from attending marquee events like the NCAA basketball tournament.

UCLA traveled to Memphis last year for the Sweet 16 of the men’s basketball tournament.

But Harper said the current ban does limit regular season scheduling and the ability of coaches to make recruiting trips to the banned states. Harper noted that UC Berkeley men’s basketball team had to withdraw from scheduling a two-game series last year with the University of Kansas.

The ban affects academic-related travel too. Harper said a group of students from UC and CSU schools could not present their research last year at a conference held in Memphis, Tenn.

This issue drove Harper to ask the state Department of Justice to settle the question last year. The department assigned a senior attorney in February 2017 to issue a formal opinion but has not yet done so.

UCLA and Cal State Fullerton were the other two state universities to make the men’s basketball tournament. UCLA lost its opening round game to St. Bonaventure on Tuesday and averted the need to use private funds to travel to its next game, which would have been against Florida in Dallas.

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