California bans state-funded travel to Montana over anti-LGBTQ laws

A transgender sports ban and RFRA bill are cause for the ban

By: - June 28, 2021 5:13 pm

A large group gathers at the Montana Capitol on March 15, 2021 during a LGBTQ rally (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan).

California is restricting state-funded travel to Montana and several other states in reaction to laws passed during the last legislative session that it views as anti-LGBTQ, the state’s attorney general announced Monday.

“The states are a part of a recent, dangerous wave of discriminatory new bills signed into law in states across the country that directly work to ban transgender youth from playing sports, block access to life-saving care, or otherwise limit the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a Monday press release. The ban will go into place on July 1, following the effective date of the two laws, according to the release.

The office of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte did not immediately return a request for comment on the ban.

Montana’s inclusion in the ban resulted from its passage of House Bill 112 and Senate Bill 215, Bonta said in the release. Respectively, the bills ban transgender women from participating in K-16 athletics and establish the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which holds that a state can’t “substantially burden” a person’s right to exercise religion without a compelling and narrowly tailored governmental interest.

But Bonta and other critics of the bill and similar legislation argue it would open a door to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the guise of religious freedom.

“[SB215] threatens to, among other effects, allow businesses to refuse a broad range of services to same-sex couples because of their sexual orientation alone,” Bonta said in the release.

Supporters of SB215 have said it bolsters Montanans’ ability to live in accordance with their religion and have denied claims it would lead to discrimination.

“I don’t believe that this bill would allow that discrimination to happen,” the bill’s sponsor Carl Glimm, R-Kila said in a February committee meeting on the bill. “This bill is not a blanket license to discriminate.”

Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, an outspoken opponent of HB112 and SB215, said on Monday the news out of California tracks with warnings of economic fallout from critics of the two bills and other social-issue legislation that the GOP pushed this session.

“By legalizing discrimination and hate in our state, we are already losing people our small businesses count on to travel and do business in Montana. This will only get worse until we make our state one where everyone is equal under the law,” he said in a text message.

Along with Montana, California added four other states — Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and West Virginia — to its list of 17 states in which state-funded travel is restricted.

The ban comes from a law — Assembly Bill 1887 — passed in 2016 requiring California to prohibit taxpayer-funded travel to states that pass laws discriminating or repealing protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

“Assembly Bill 1887 is about aligning our dollars with our values. When states discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans, California law requires our office to take action,” Bonta said in the release.

During the legislative session, opponents of HB112 and SB215 warned of the economic impact of the bills, such as losing up to $350 million in federal education funding if HB112 is found to violate Title IX.

Critics also warned about the possibility of a hit to tourism in the state, one of Montana’s leading industries. More than 12 million tourists visited Montana and spent $3.8 billion in 2019, according to the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development.

In late March, more than 250 Montana businesses signed a letter opposing a slate of bills, including the ones mentioned by Bonta. Additionally, the Montana Tech Alliance, a non-profit that focuses on creating tech jobs in Montana and had which Gianforte is a founding member, said in a statement in February that HB112 could “significantly hamper” the state’s ability to recruit and retain top talent.

For SJ Howell, a lobbyist for Montana Women Vote, the news of the ban did not come as a surprise.

“We’ve said all along that discriminatory legislation like HB112 would have consequences for Montana.”

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.