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State Lawmakers Propose 14 Bills to Provide Reparations for Black Californians

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A group of men and women pose for a photo onstage.
From left, state Sen. Steven Bradford, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, task force member Lisa Holder and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer hold up a final report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans during a hearing in Sacramento on June 29, 2023. (Haven Daley/AP)

On Wednesday, California Legislative Black Caucus members announced the 14 reparations bills they are prioritizing this year — a day after the first of those bills won approval at a committee hearing.

The bills are inspired by recommendations from the California Reparations Task Force, which detailed how the state government had supported slavery and dozens of discriminatory laws in a 1,000-page report released last summer.

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Why it matters: California is the first state in the country to consider providing reparations to Black residents. The state’s task force was created in the months after George Floyd’s murder. State lawmakers committed to exploring how decades of discriminatory policies contributed to Black residents facing higher rates of incarceration, having less wealth and suffering worse health outcomes than other racial groups. Now, the lawmakers will be asked to turn their promises into votes.

By the numbers: Fourteen. That’s the number of reparations bills the Legislative Black Caucus is prioritizing this year. None of them spell out direct cash payments to Black residents. Instead, the reparations bills include ideas ranging from limiting solitary confinement in state prisons to starting a grant program to enroll more descendants of slavery in STEM-related career technical education programs.

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Between the lines: Wednesday’s press conference was the second rollout of reparations bills. Or the third if you count a solo press call held by state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, on his reparations proposals. The uneven rollout has been criticized as disorganized and lacking a cohesive vision — critiques which lawmakers hoped to put to rest by laying out the reparations bills they will be prioritizing.

The latest: On Tuesday, the Assembly Judiciary Committee approved ACR 135, a resolution acknowledging the role of California lawmakers who worked to advance slavery in the state. All nine Democrats on the committee voted to support the resolution, while the three Republicans abstained.

Warning signs: Asm. Diane Dixon, R-Newport Beach, was one of the Republicans who abstained, saying she had not yet read the report. She condemned racist laws passed by early state lawmakers but drew a line. “As California legislators today, we can be proud that in the second half — it took a long time — of the 20th century, we became a national leader in extending civil rights to African Americans and others,” she said. Her statement drew rebukes from members of the Black Caucus, who said discriminatory policies have continued in the state.

What’s next: The bills touted on Wednesday must now clear policy committees in either the Senate or the Assembly by April 26.

What they’re saying: California Legislative Black Caucus Chair Lori Wilson, D-Suisun City, is setting a high bar for the 14 bills before the legislative session ends on Aug. 31. “Success looks like our priority package getting done,” she said.

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