California lawmakers say reparations bills, which exclude widespread payments, are a starting point

Black lawmakers in California on Wednesday introduced a package of reparations legislation, calling it a starting point to atone for the state’s legacy of discrimination.

The California Legislative Black Caucus introduced the package of more than a dozen proposals months after a first-in-the-nation reparations task force sent a report, two years in the making, to lawmakers recommending how the state should apologize and offer redress to Black Californians. The package doesn’t include widespread direct cash payments to Black families.

“We are witnessing the effects of the longstanding institution of slavery and how that impacts our communities,” Democratic Assemblymember Mike Gipson said at a press conference at the state Capitol.

The proposals must now garner political support as the state faces a massive budget deficit. Reparations advocates were quick to criticize the package’s exclusion of widespread compensation. Other critics said many of the proposals fall outside of the scope of reparations, and some say they would be too costly to implement.

Here are some of the ideas:

A bill by Sen. Steven Bradford, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who was a task force member, would create an agency known as the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency to administer reparations programs and help Black families research their family lineage. Lawmakers have not yet released an estimate for how much this would cost.

California voters passed an initiative in 1996 to ban the consideration of race, color, sex and nationality in public employment, education and contracting decisions. Voters again decided to uphold that law in 2020.

One of the reparations proposals would allow the governor to approve exceptions to that law in order to address poverty and improve educational outcomes for African Americans and other groups. It would need to pass both houses of the Legislature by a two-thirds vote before heading to voters.

Bradford introduced a bill for the state to compensate families whose property was seized through eminent domain as a result of racism and discrimination. Bradford did not offer details Wednesday on how the state would determine whether property was seized due to racist motives. The proposal comes after Los Angeles County in 2022 returned a beachfront property to the descendants of its Black owners decades after local officials seized it from them.

Under one proposal, the state would formally acknowledge California’s legacy of slavery and discrimination and require lawmakers to create a formal apology. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a formal apology for the state’s historical mistreatment of Native Americans.

The package includes a proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban involuntary servitude. The goal is to prevent inmates from being forced to work while being paid wages that are often less than $1 an hour. Several other states have already passed similar proposals.

Newsom’s administration opposed a previous version of the proposed amendment, citing the cost to taxpayers if the state had to start paying inmates the minimum wage. It failed to pass the state Senate in 2022.

The re-introduced proposal by Black Caucus Chair Lori Wilson, a Democratic assemblymember representing part of Solano County, passed the Assembly last year and is now being weighed by the Senate.

The reparations package does not include widespread payments to descendants of Black people who were living in the United States by the end of the 19th century, which the reparations task force recommended. Lawmakers may introduce direct compensation in future years, Wilson said. They will first have to contend with the budget deficit and would have to build a coalition of support among other lawmakers.

___ Austin is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: @sophieadanna

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