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Will California’s New Travel Ban to Named States Affect Government Technology Partnerships?

California banned state-funded travel to four more states this week over what they deem to be discriminatory laws in Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas. But what wider impacts might this action have on a diverse range of topics — from out-of-state collegiate sport competitions to government technology partnerships nationwide? Let’s explore.

credit: David Kidd/Government Technology
Back in January 2017, a new law went into effect in California that banned state government employees and officials from using tax dollars to travel to states with laws it deemed discriminatory in regards to LGBT rights — starting with Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

On Thursday, June 22, 2017, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that the list had doubled. The ban on state-funded and state-sponsored travel now includes Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas.

In making the announcement, Becerra said, "Our country has made great strides in dismantling prejudicial laws that have deprived too many of our fellow Americans of their precious rights. Sadly, that is not the case in all parts of our nation, even in the 21st century. I am announcing today that I am adding four states to the list of states where California-funded or -sponsored travel will be restricted on account of the discriminatory nature of laws enacted by those states.” 

According to the press release: “AB 1887 prohibits state-funded and state-sponsored travel to states with laws that authorize or require discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or against same-sex couples or their families. The California legislation went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. This restriction applies to state agencies, departments, boards, authorities and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California and the California State University.”

Negative Reactions from Banned States

The reaction from the affected states was swift and predictably negative. According to the Louisville

In Kentucky, the ban has to do with a religious freedom law signed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Woody Maglinger, press secretary for Bevin's office, called the California Attorney General's actions hypocritical in a statement emailed to the Courier-Journal. 

"It is fascinating that the very same West Coast liberals who rail against the president’s executive order, that protects our nation from foreign terrorists, have now contrived their own travel ban aimed at punishing states who don’t fall in lockstep with their far-left political ideology," the statement said. 

According to the San Jose Mercury News:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded to the news with a biting rebuke in a statement playing to his state’s noisy economic rivalry with the Golden State.

“California may be able to stop their state employees, but they can’t stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation and relocating to Texas,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman told CBS Dallas.

While the motivations behind the move are understandable, the ban could be tricky to implement — and, potentially, trigger political retribution, said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

“California is not held in high esteem in much of the country,” Pitney said. “One could see legislatures in other states supporting some kind of retaliatory action. It would be quite popular with the Republican electorate.”

The Houston Chronicle reported: “[Texas Gov.] Abbott aides and legislative leaders dissed the California move as hollow, saying that if the Golden State is so concerned about discrimination and human rights outside its borders, Gov. Jerry Brown should not have recently visited China.”

Immediate Impact Is Unclear

Trying to gauge the immediate nationwide impact of the travel ban is difficult. As the Courier-Journal article points out, “It's unclear what practical effect California's travel ban will have. The state law contains exemptions for some trips, such as travel needed to enforce California law and to honor contracts made before 2017. Travel to conferences or out-of-state training are examples of trips that could be blocked. Becerra's office couldn't provide information about how often state employees have visited the newly banned states.” reported that the California ban won't stop Alabama from hosting Fresno State, since the contract was already in place. However, UC Berkeley won’t schedule future Kansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee trips due to LGBT discrimination laws in each state reported that California's travel ban may trip up intercollegiate athletic teams — including recruiting trips and other aspects of cross-state travel.

When California’s ban took effect in January, the Cal athletic department issued a statement saying: “Our intent is to support our student-athletes in their right to participate in NCAA postseason competition should they be assigned to a restricted state.”

But it’s not clear how they could do that, short of raising private donations to support not only travel costs, but also salaries for coaches and staff, and potentially insurance.

Meanwhile, Cal had been in preliminary talks for a men’s basketball series with the University of Kansas in January, when the travel ban that included Kansas took effect.

“Cal got back to us and told us the state ban would prevent it,” said Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for KU athletics.

Will State and Local Government Technology Partnerships Be Impacted? 

Many are wondering: Will this travel ban affect technology partnerships, conferences, cybersecurity efforts and/or other cooperative government and private-sector arrangements?

Sadly, I think it will impact public-private partnerships in several ways. Initially, this impact may be minor, but it could grow substantially depending on a variety of factors — such as whether other states retaliate. 

For example, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) is scheduled to meet in Austin, Texas, in October 2017. Will California state officials be able to attend? I certainly hope our respected government technology colleagues will be allowed to be there and offer their presentations and respected input. If not, California's leadership and influence in areas ranging from autonomous vehicles to smart cities to artificial intelligence to procurement reform will be negatively affected. 

Similar topics will arise if leaders from California Universities cannot present their research findings at conferences and events around the country in the named states.

Another question is whether other states and/or countries retaliate in some, such as forbidding their government staff from traveling to events or meetings in California. Numerous national (and global) technology and cybersecurity events are held in California.

Could events like the RSA Conference in San Francisco, which is the largest cybersecurity conference in the world, be impacted in 2018? Could non-government organizations organize boycotts of technology or other conferences in California? Is this the beginning of a new chapter in U.S. culture wars between conservative and liberal states? Will future historians view these recent actions as a cultural turning point?

Answer: I certainly hope not. Perhaps some court will overturn this California travel ban, in the same way that courts have stopped President Trump’s executive orders on travel to the USA from certain overseas countries. This negative rhetoric is bound to flow over into other areas of government cooperation between state and local governments. But only time will tell for sure.

My Perspective 

No doubt, most states have instituted out-of-state travel bans at some point. In Michigan government, state employees faced out-of-state travel restrictions for budget reasons during several years of furlough days such as in 2009. However, those bans focused on budget savings and included all out-of-state travel — and not just specific states that passed laws that Michigan legislators disagreed with.

With the LA Times, my personal view is that that this government travel ban in California is ill-conceived. The LA Times ended their opinion piece like this:

“Boycotts have a long and venerable history of success: Californians can look back with pride on the table-grape boycott of the 1960s that led to better working conditions for farmhands. Like that campaign, the best boycotts do more than rattle sabers. They are well-targeted and have a meaningful effect. They don’t carry a list of exemptions and exceptions, and they stand a good chance of bringing about change with a low risk of retaliation and unintended consequences. California’s well-intended boycott on behalf of LGBTQ rights meets none of these standards.”

I respectfully understand that the CA legislators are trying to make a point, but they cannot change the laws in other states by implementing these government employee travel bans to named states. These travel bans are more likely to inflame cross-state tensions even further, especially if even more states are added to the California list.

Regardless of whether you support the new laws in these eight states for religious liberties or whether you believe these laws are unfairly discriminatory, this travel ban is still a bad idea in my opinion. It may lead to a coalition of states that oppose California laws and take action, while other states may join with California.

If this trend continues, partnerships and cooperative relationships between myriad public and private institutions across the country will be negatively impacted. The situation could get much worse if other states counter with their own travel bans to California, as State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Texas says he would like to do.

Final Thoughts

In March 2016, I wrote an article entitled: Could the election be hacked?  I was mocked in a few social media channels by some industry colleagues who said I was being an alarmist by raising the hacking issue at that time for the upcoming 2016 Presidential election. 

No doubt, these two issues are very different, but I feel the same level of concern about the potential for this California travel ban situation to escalate and impact state government business and mutual cooperation in business and technology areas nationwide.

I truly hope that California will back down and lift their travel ban to these states before the situation moves in an untold number of negative directions — to the detriment of our entire nation.


Note: This blog contains my personal viewpoint on this California travel ban issue. These views expressed may or may not be consistent with the opinions of Government Technology magazine or eRepublic leadership. 


Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.
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