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Minnesota to keep N.C. travel ban as other states demur

Gov. Dayton enacted policy in protest over HB2

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Mark Dayton, Minnesota, Democratic Farmer Labor Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Mark Dayton, Minnesota, Democratic Farmer Labor Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Mark Dayton will keep the travel ban to N.C. (Photo public domain)

Minnesota has become the first state to announce it will retain its travel ban to North Carolina enacted in protest over anti-LGBT bill House Bill 2 despite the governor signing into law a replacement measure.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the travel ban in April, directing state employees not to travel to North Carolina for nonessential business, after the enactment of HB2 in the state.

Although North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a fellow Democrat, has signed into law a replacement measure he says alleviates the situation, Sam Fettig, a Dayton spokesperson, told the Washington Blade on Wednesday, “No, we are not going to lift the ban.”

Criticized by LGBT rights supporters as a deal that doubles down on discrimination, the agreement between Cooper and Republican leaders in the legislature was reached amid an ongoing economic boycott of state as result of HB2.

The new law, House Bill 142, prohibits municipalities, state agencies and the University of North Carolina from the “regulation of access” to bathrooms, locker rooms and showers without the legislature’s permission. It also bans municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measures that would apply to private employment or public accommodations until 2020.

Numerous cities that had enacted similar travel bans in protest of HB2 — the District of Columbia, New York City, Oakland, Seattle, San Fransisco, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City and Cincinnati — have declared those bans will remain in place in the aftermath of the deal because of the discriminatory impact of the new law.

But the states haven’t been as forthcoming. At least six — California, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Washington State — had enacted travel bans to North Carolina as a result of HB2.

A spokesperson for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, stopped short of affirming the ban will remain in place, although he said it remains for the time being.

“Our review of the new North Carolina law is ongoing, and the Governor’s Executive Order ‎currently remains in effect,” Azzopardi said.

In Washington State, the travel ban has actually expired as a result of the new law in North Carolina. The memo that Inslee signed in 2016 states the travel ban would remain in effect “so long as the recently approved HB2 exists in its current form.”

Tara Lee, an Inslee spokesperson, confirmed that as a result of the deal Cooper signed into law “the travel ban no longer applies.”

“However, the governor feels that the changes to their state law are a disappointing half-measure towards the equal protections every person should receive,” Lee said.

In response to a follow-up inquiry on whether Inslee is considering putting a new travel ban in place, Lee replied, “We are considering options.”

California has ban on travel to North Carolina as result of Assembly Bill 1887, a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that allows the attorney general to maintain a list of states with laws rolling back LGBT rights and prohibit state-sponsored travel to those states. An official with Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said his office is reviewing whether North Carolina no longer warrants inclusion on the travel restriction list after the HB2 deal.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy is also reviewing the new law in North Carolina before making a decision on whether to affirm the travel ban he signed last year, a spokesperson said.

“We don’t have an update, yet,” said Malloy spokesperson Kelly Donnelly. “We are still reviewing the new legislation.”

The offices of Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the travel ban former Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, enacted last year.

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Federal Government

Nonbinary Energy Department official charged with second luggage theft

Sam Brinton placed on administrative leave after first allegation

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Samuel Brinton, gay news, Washington Blade
Sam Brinton (Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton)

Sam Brinton, the first openly genderfluid person appointed to a senior government post, was served with a felony arrest warrant Friday following a second incident in which they were accused of stealing luggage from an airport.

New charges accuse Brinton of grand larceny of property valued between $1,200 and $5,000, for stealing luggage at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. They were previously charged with a felony for lifting a suitcase from baggage claim at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 16.

Brinton joined the U.S. Department of Energy this year as deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition. The New York Post reported they were put on leave following the first incident.

“The Department of Energy takes criminal charges against DOE employees and clearance holders very seriously,” a Department of Energy spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement. “Sam Brinton, a career civil servant, is on administrative leave. The department is limited by law on what it can disclose on personnel matters, such as an employee’s clearance status. Generally, as the department has previously stated, if a DOE clearance holder is charged with a crime, the case would be immediately considered by DOE personnel security officials, and depending on the circumstances, that review could result in suspension or revocation of the clearance.”

On Dec. 7, a group of 16 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including far-right Congress members Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), called on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to demand Brinton’s resignation.

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Congress

Sen. Sinema changes party affiliation from Democrat to independent

Lawmaker made history in 2018, becoming first bi member to serve in Senate

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said during an interview with POLITICO on Friday that she will switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent but pledged not to change the way she has voted over the past four years in the Senate.

Sinema’s announcement comes just two days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia prevailed in a runoff election against Republican challenger Herschel Walker, widening Democrats’ razor thin majority in the upper chamber.

“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema told POLITICO. “I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement on her decision:

“Senator Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months, from the American Rescue Plan to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the CHIPS and Science Act, from the PACT Act to the Gun Safety Act to the Respect for Marriage Act, and more.

“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

Sinema’s reputation as an iconoclast has occasionally frustrated her Democratic colleagues in the chamber as well as progressives more broadly. Critics were puzzled by what they saw as the Arizona Senator’s fealty to multinational pharmaceutical companies, hedge funds, and venture capital firms.

More recently, however, Sinema was credited for her instrumental work earning her GOP colleagues’ support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which earned a filibuster proof majority and is now on its way to be signed into law.

Sinema made history with her election to the Senate in 2018, becoming the first bisexual and second LGBTQ person (behind Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) to serve in the upper chamber.

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National

Brittney Griner returns to U.S.

WNBA star released in exchange for Russian arms dealer

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Brittney Griner before she left Moscow on Dec. 8, 2022. (Screen capture via Russian State Media)

WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. on Friday after Russia released her in exchange for a convicted arms dealer.

Griner landed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio at around 5:30 a.m. ET. 

Media reports indicate Griner then went to the U.S. Army’s Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. They also said she will undergo a medical examination at the Brooke Army Medical Center.

“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil,” tweeted “Welcome home BG.”

Griner had been serving a nine-year prison sentence in a penal colony after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials in February found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

President Biden on Thursday announced Russia had released Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.

Russian media broadcast a video of the exchange that took place at an airport in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. 

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken when they spoke with Griner from the Oval Office before she left for the U.S.

“She is safe,” said Biden. “She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Advocacy groups are among those who welcomed Brittney Griner’s release. Cherelle Griner and the Biden administration have said they remain committed to securing the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying.

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