‘Political theater’: State lawmakers react to California’s ban on state-funded travel to North Dakota

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North Dakota became one of 17 states this week that will no longer see some California visitors starting this summer.

California banned state-funded travel to North Dakota over a North Dakota law passed to protect free speech on college campuses — citing concerns it would allow discrimination against LGBTQ students.

“It’s really strange because as 1503 went through the legislative session, it was never about LGBT, it was about freedom of speech,” Bismarck Republican Sen. Dick Dever said.

Because House Bill 1503 prohibited colleges from withholding funding based on a group’s viewpoint, California deemed it discriminatory against those in the LGBT community.

Dever cosponsored the bill and says California’s action is discriminatory in its own way.

“It would seem to me there would be a greater impact if the national organizations that we are a part of would quit holding conferences in California because they discriminate against people with a different view,” Dever said.

Even lawmakers who voted against the bill say California’s ban deepens the country’s political divide.

“The only way to reduce divides is by talking to each other, by trying to get a better understanding of each other, to use empathy. In order to talk to each other, you have to be in the same room, so you kind of have to be in the same state,” Bismarck Democratic Sen. Erin Oban said.

In terms of impact, Oban says it’s hard to say.

“Does California even send many state-sponsored workers to North Dakota? Frankly, I’m exhausted by political theater happening all around us all the time,” Oban said.

The bill passed 65 to 29 in the House and 35 to 12 in the Senate. State laws take effect Aug. 1, which is when the travel ban will, too.

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