How California Reparations Proposals Could Become Law

Dr. Amos C. Brown, Jr., vice chair for the California Reparations Task Force, right, holds a copy of the book Songs of Slavery and Emancipation, as he and other members of the task force pose for photos at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on June 16, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Reparations for Black residents in California will move to the state Legislature once a first-in-the-nation task force submits its recommendations and findings by July 1.

But the task force will not propose a cash restitution amount for individuals, opting instead to leave it to lawmakers to figure out how much descendants of U.S. chattel slavery are owed.

The panel on Wednesday endorsed calculation methodologies showing that California could owe African American residents more than $800 billion just for discrimination in policing and housing loans. California’s annual budget is nearly $300 billion.

What will lawmakers do next?

Two task force members are also state lawmakers and will spearhead efforts to turn the panel's recommendations into legislation that can pass the Assembly and Senate and get the support of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

State Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer said they aim to introduce reparations legislation in January. Legislation usually takes months before passing both chambers and reaching the governor's desk.

State. Sen Steven Bradford introduced a bill to keep the panel going for another year so members can assist lawmakers as they consider the group’s recommendations.

Where will California get money to fund reparations?

Bradford has suggested setting aside 0.5% of the state’s annual budget — or $1.5 billion — every year for a reparations fund that could pay for ongoing programs for free health care, education and homebuying assistance, among other things.

Democratic Assemblymember Lori Wilson, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, said it’s too early to know where money for reparations plans would ultimately come from, but she looks forward to “that robust discussion."

California Senate Pro-Tem Toni Atkins said in a statement it's too early to comment on any possible reparations legislation. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon “looks forward to studying” the task force's final report, spokesperson John Casey said in an email.

What are other recommendations for repair?

The task force recommends lawmakers establish a California American Freedmen Affairs Agency to help people with reparations claims, among other duties.

Other policy proposals include paying incarcerated inmates market value for their labor, establishing free wellness centers in Black communities and adopting a K-12 Black studies curriculum.

California was never a slave state. Why is it considering reparations?

A groundbreaking report issued by the task force last year lays out how California and local governments used racist laws and policies to discriminate against African American residents in a host of areas, including housing, labor, education and the criminal justice system.

Black people are overrepresented in state prisons and county jails. They also make up about 6% of the state's population but 30% of its homeless population.

What are the arguments against reparations in California?

In general, critics of reparations say current taxpayers who never owned slaves should not have to compensate the descendants of slavery. Some people say the federal government should be responsible for paying descendants.

Bob Woodson, a prominent Black conservative, calls reparations impractical, controversial and counterproductive. “No amount of money could ever ‘make right’ the evil of slavery, and it is insulting to suggest that it could,” he said.

How did the task force start?

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation in 2020 creating the nine-member task force. The panel began meeting in 2021.

Its charge was to document slavery and its effects on descendants today, recommend ways to educate the public on the task force’s findings, and propose how the state can repair the harm, including an apology, policy changes and financial compensation.

What's the status of other reparations efforts?

Similar attempts are moving along in other parts of the country although reparations proposals have stalled at the federal level. In New York, lawmakers reintroduced legislation this year to create a commission to study reparations. In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors expressed general support of a reparations plan drafted by an advisory committee but stopped short of endorsing specific proposals.

Har reported from San Francisco.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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