California recently added Kentucky to its list of states off-limits to state workers for nonessential travel. The move is in response to what it considers "discriminatory legislation" toward the LGBT community. At issue is Kentucky's enactment of SB 17, the Student Religious Freedom Act which allows public school students to express their religious and political views without being downgraded. At best, the law could tangentially effect LGBT students but that wasn't what it was primarily about.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer requested an exemption from the travel ban and insisted in a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra that Louisville's "inclusive behavior" should be rewarded and not penalized. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray made a similar plea. Both requests fell on deaf ears.
The heat was turned up when two Illinois firms in solidarity with California pulled their conventions from Louisville, erasing an estimated $2 million in future revenue. So is this the new way states express policy disagreements?
It's ironic that California imposes a travel ban upon its sister states over LGBT policy disagreements yet they joined a lawsuit protesting Pres. Trump's travel ban targeting Islamic states—each of which persecute members of the LGBT community. Case of selective outrage? Perhaps. Maybe its just the latest chapter in California's book of hostility toward First Amendment freedoms of association and speech.
Consider that in 2012, California enacted a law prohibiting religious organizations on state college campuses from refusing leadership positions to non-ascribing students. They also restrict speech on college campuses to "free speech zones." Students at UC-Berkley resorted to violence and destruction of property when a conservative speaker was supposed to speak back in April.
If you are in favor of doctor-prescribed suicide, minors receiving birth-control and abortions without parental consent, psychiatrists restricted from counseling minors out of objectionable sexual practices, and sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, then California is a good fit. If you are in favor of First Amendment protections reflected in state law—like Kentucky's SB 17, then Kentucky might be a better fit.
In case further points of contrast are needed between the Bluegrass and California consider a few more differences when it comes to major social policies. Kentucky recently passed a law forcing abortionists to provide sonograms to their patients. California forces pro-life pregnancy care centers to provide information on how to get an abortion. Kentucky recently made it very difficult for Planned Parenthood to receive state tax dollars. Last year, the California legislature passed a resolution praising the organization. The state is also prosecuting the undercover reporter who caught Planned Parenthood executives dealing in the body parts of aborted babies.
California has every right to make policies it sees best for its citizens but it doesn't have the right to impose financial sanctions against states it disagrees with. In fact, it is arguably illegal. Article I Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress exclusive power to regulate trade and commerce between states. California's fiscal retaliation could trigger the kind of trade war the Founders feared.
Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Matt Bevin criticized the move. So did our neighbor to the South. Earlier this year, the Tennessee legislature passed a resolution that called California's move a "type of blackmail." They urged other states to not impose "unfounded moral judgment on their sister states as California has done in order to prevent escalating foolishness." Altogether, California banned travel to eight states.
Kentucky shouldn't kowtow to bullying by a bigger state. Nor should our policies shouldn't be ransomed for other states' convention and travel dollars. Kentuckians value the democratic process, our state sovereignty and deepest held principles. This is why every elected official should stand up to California's exporting their brand of intolerance.
This column appeared in the July 7, 2017 edition of the USA Today.