California lawmakers introduce reparations package with formal apology for slavery

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California lawmakers introduced a reparations package to their state house on Wednesday, including 14 bills they claim will help support Black communities across the state following historical mistreatment.

Members of California’s Legislative Black Caucus said the 14 reparations bills seek a formal apology for slavery and other human rights violations from the governor and legislature, and the return of property taken in race-based cases of eminent domain, among other restitution.

The bills are intended to be just the first legislative actions in an effort that will likely span years.

“While many only associate direct cash payments with reparations, the true meaning of the word, to repair, involves much more,” Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson, chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said per Reuters.

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Members of California’s Legislative Black Caucus introduced the 14 reparations bills on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The 14 bills follow an extensive 1,100-page report written in June by the California Reparations Task Force, a group of lawmakers created by a state bill in 2020.

The task force includes Wilson as chair, Assembly members Steven Bradford as vice chair, Isaac Bryan, Dr. Akilah Weber, Mia Bonta, Christopher Holden, Dr. Corey Jackson, Kevin McCarty, Tina McKinnor, Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, Mike Gipson and Reggie Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr.

Their work on the report spanned two years and they ultimately made over 100 recommendations to legislators in the state.

Among the above issues, the other recommendations include compensating people and funding community-based programs to decrease violence in Black communities.

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Wednesday’s 14 bills —

  • Expand access to career technical education through a new competitive grant program.
  • Add career-education financial aid.
  • Amend the California Constitution to allow the State to fund programs to help increase the life expectancy of specific groups, improve their educational outcomes and lift them out of poverty.
  • Formally recognize and accept responsibility for all the harms and atrocities committed by any state representative who promoted, facilitated, enforced and permitted the institution of chattel slavery.
  • Prohibit discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in all competitive sports.
  • Restore property taken during race-based use of eminent domain to its original owners or provide restitution or compensation in such cases.
  • Issue a formal apology for human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.
  • Amend the California Constitution to prohibit involuntary servitude for incarcerated persons.
  • Eliminate the practice of banning books without oversight and review.
  • Fund community-driven solutions to decrease community violence at the family, school and neighborhood levels in African-American communities.
  • Restrict solitary confinement within detention facilities.
  • Make medically supportive food and nutrition interventions a permanent part of Medi-Cal benefits.
  • Address food injustice by requiring advance notice of the closure of a grocery store.
  • Eliminate barriers for people with criminal records to obtain business licenses and to prioritize African American applicants seeking occupational licenses.

The items were initially announced in January. None of the initial 14 bills proposed on Wednesday call for cash reparations, a subject which has garnered criticism from both sides of the proverbial aisle.

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Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer argued the bills would address decades of laws and policies designed to ostracize Black Americans.

California State Capitol

The Black Caucus members said the bills would address decades of laws and policies designed to ostracize Black Americans. (Visions of America/Joe Sohm/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Governor Gavin Newsom, California, deficit, education, public school

California Gov. Newsom signed a state bill forming the California Reparations Task Force into law in 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chi, File)

“These atrocities are found in education, access to homeownership, and to capital for small business startups, all of which contributed to the denial of generational wealth over hundreds of years,” Jones-Sawyer said, Reuters reported.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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