Like always, lawmakers jammed a mountain of bills into the legislative queue just ahead of the Feb. 19 deadline to introduce them.
Many of them affect state employees. Some would install new laws and regulations that pile on workload (it happens every year to DMV staff) or by altering some aspect of how state government itself conducts business.
Now, with the 30-day waiting period to start hearing those measures just ahead, here’s one to watch: Assembly Bill 1887 by Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat from Campbell.
Low wants to prohibit state employees from government-funded travel to states that have “a law in effect that sanctions or requires discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” according to his bill’s language.
Discrimination affects everyone, Low said when asked why he had submitted the measure, “and no one wants to send employees into an environment where they would be uncomfortable.”
The bill targets states like Indiana with “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” statutes. Those states make it easier for people to demand exemptions from anti-discrimination laws by allowing lawsuits that challenge them based on religious belief.
And to answer your first question, no, the proposed restrictions don’t cover lawmakers or their staffs. Low said the measure addresses only “administrative” travel as opposed to trips that are “political in nature.”
Religious Freedom Restoration Acts make it easier for people to sue for exemptions from nondiscrimination laws by claiming the statutes go against their religious beliefs. The government must prove that enforcement is the least restrictive means of furthering a weighty governmental interest.
The issue grabbed his attention, he said, when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a so-called RFRA law last year.
A controversy erupted when several large corporations, including Apple and Eli Lilly, publicly blasted the statute and San Francisco and other cities boycotted travel to the Hoosier state.
Indiana amended the law so that it doesn’t apply to jurisdictions such as Indianapolis, which had LGBT protections on its municipal books. But other jurisdictions without specific laws can still be challenged if they step in to block LGBT discrimination.
Your second question: Which states are we talking about?
“That’s a question we still need to address,” Low said. He’s waiting for a legislative analysis.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have enacted so-called “RFRA” laws. Most are conservative (Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico) or in the Bible Belt (the Gulf Coast, up through Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia).
But legislative staff will scrutinize the laws for each state and set a standard to determine which would be on the travel verboten list, Low said.
Meanwhile, he expects support for the measure will build. The LGBT-rights group Equality California is sponsoring the bill. Low figures several Fortune 500 companies will back him.
“It’s still early in the game,” Low said.
Look for the first committee hearings late this month or early in April.