The set of bills notably excludes direct cash payments.
California state lawmakers introduced a slate of reparations bills on Wednesday, including a proposal to restore property taken by “race-based” cases of eminent domain and a potentially unconstitutional measure to provide state funding for “specific groups.”
The package marks a first-in-the-nation effort to give restitution to Black Americans who have been harmed by centuries of racist policies and practices. California’s legislative push is the culmination of years of research and debate, including 111-pages of recommendations issued last year by a task force.
Other states like Colorado, New York, and Massachusetts have commissioned reparations studies or task forces, but California is the first to attempt to turn those ideas into law.
The 14 measures introduced by the Legislative Black Caucus touch on education, civil rights and criminal justice, including reviving a years-old effort to restrict solitary confinement that failed to make it out of the statehouse as recently as last year.
Not included is any type of financial compensation to descendants of Black slaves, a polarizing proposal that has received a cool response from many state Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“While many only associate direct cash payments with reparations, the true meaning of the word, to repair, involves much more,” Assemblymember Lori Wilson, chair of the caucus, said in a statement. “We need a comprehensive approach to dismantling the legacy of slavery and systemic racism.”
The package does have a provision that would give some monetary relief. The proposed bill, authored by State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, deals with “property takings.” It would, “Restore property taken during raced-based uses of eminent domain to its original owners or provide another effective remedy where appropriate, such as restitution or compensation.”
Black lawmakers are already anticipating an uphill battle. They anticipate spending many hours to educate fellow legislators and convince them to pass the bills.
Some of the measures could also run into legal trouble.
Democratic Assemblymember Corey Jackson, who represents a district north of San Diego, is proposing asking voters to change California’s Constitution to allow the state to fund programs aimed at “increasing the life expectancy of, improving educational outcomes for, or lifting out of poverty specific groups based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, or marginalized genders, sexes, or sexual orientations.”
That plan could face a similar constitutional challenge like the one that ultimately dismantled affirmative action.
Other proposals include protections for “natural and protective” hairstyles in all competitive sports, and a formal apology by the governor and Legislature for the state’s role in human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.
The caucus will flesh out the package in the coming weeks.
Featured image: 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, Calif., June 29, 2023. | Haven Daley/AP