Tennessee Republicans denounce 'absurdity' of California travel ban

In this 2013 file photo, Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville displays a knife during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing as Sen. John Stevens of Huntingdon looks on. On Thursday, Bell and Rep. Jeremy Faison, chairmen of their respective House and Senate operations committees, said the panels will hold a joint "fact-finding" hearing next month to examine enforcement of Tennessee's law banning sales of aborted fetuses in the wake of a controversy over the issue regarding national Planned Parenthood.

NASHVILLE - Several Tennessee Republican legislators, upset over a California law banning state-funded travel to the Volunteer State after last year's passage of a controversial counselors' law affecting the LGBT community, are denouncing Golden State lawmakers.

Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said he weighed legislation that would have retaliated with a similar ban on Tennessee government-funded travel to California.

photo Tennessee Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, addresses the Pachyderm Club of Hamilton County meeting on Aug. 4, 2014.

But Bell said after consultation with several colleagues, he decided to pursue a resolution and take the "high road."

For now.

"I think a wiser approach is to do a resolution and not a bill," Bell said, "because this issue is much, much bigger than states just disagreeing on a particular law another state's passed. I really think what California has done is fire the first shot of what could be an economic civil war between the states."

Among other things, Bell's resolution, co- sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and several other senators, urges 48 other states "to refrain from imposing their unfounded moral judgment on their sister states as California has done in order to prevent escalating foolishness."

It also accuses California of attempted "blackmail."

Tennessee last year passed a law that allows professional therapists and counselors who have "sincerely held beliefs" at odds with their clients' goals to reject LGBT clients. It also requires counselors who do so to refer the client to another professional and blocks such moves if there is imminent danger of clients doing harm to themselves or others.

California, meanwhile, passed a boycott that bars state-funded travel to states believed to discriminate against lesbian, gay, sexual and transgender people.

Besides Tennessee, other states affected by California's action include North Carolina, which passed a controversial bathroom law targeting transgender students, as well as Kansas and Mississippi for legislation the LGBT community says unfairly targets them.

Bell sponsored a Tennessee version of the bathroom bill, which was yanked by the House sponsor at the end of last year's session. Another senator has introduced a similar bill this year. It is one of several bills in the GOP-dominated legislature that members of Tennessee's LGBT community charge target them.

Bell's resolution directs a certified copy of the resolution be sent to an estimated 15,000 individual legislators across the nation, as well as the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

That's "so they may also consider taking action against this kind of blackmail," the resolution states.

It also raises the distinct possibility of retaliatory travel bans in the future if California and similar states "persist in banning travel to Tennessee as a punitive action "for this body conducting its constitutionally mandated duties as its members see fit."

In its introductory clauses, the Tennessee resolution ridicules California's action, saying officials here are happy the California law appears to hinder economic recruitment and state universities' ability to recruit players from Tennessee.

But the resolution also warns that "this type of ban, the result of legitimate disagreements about government policy, is neither persuasive nor productive for either party and will lead to economic warfare among states, as one sovereign entity attempts to tell an equally sovereign entity how to conduct its affairs by restricting travel thereto."

Bell said Tennesseans "don't agree with California coddling illegal alien criminals in sanctuary cities or with their out-of-control budget deficits, but we have not banned state-funded travel to that state. The U.S. Constitution grants sovereignty to states in addressing issues within their jurisdiction, which is the most basic precept of our government."

He was joined in a state Capitol news conference by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Tillman Goins, R-Morristown, both social conservatives like Bell, but who had cautioned him to use a resolution instead of a retaliatory law.

Dunn told reporters that he spoke with a Republican legislator from California who "kind of agreed" Golden State lawmakers overreached.

The Knoxville lawmaker also said he tried to contact the Democratic lawmaker who sponsored the retaliatory legislation, but the lawmaker never responded.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.