Legislators in California have introduced a first-in-the-nation package of reparations bills that aims to redress the legacy of racism in America. There is only one small catch: the reparations being offered do not include any actual cash payments.
The move is the culmination of a process that began in 2020, after the Black Lives Matter riots, when Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill to create a committee to study reparations and make recommendations. The committee had no white members.
California — which entered the Union as a “free” state in 1850 — had no history of legal slavery in the state. But proponents said that slavery continues to affect black Americans in general, and pointed to other racially discriminatory policies in the state.
The committee deliberated for months, and produced increasingly outrageous estimates of the value of reparations — $1.2 million for each black resident, for instance, or (later) $800 billion overall, some two and-a-half times the annual California state budget.
Other proposals were nearly just as controversial, such as separate schools for black children (which would, ironically, create a new Jim Crow system in California).
Newsom began to take a more cautious and skeptical approach to the committee’s work.
Now, the legislature will consider several bills to implement some of the committee’s recommendations — and it will not include any cash payments, according to Politico, except for cases of restitution of property seized under eminent domain.
Politico noted Wednesday:
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.
One proposal, Politico observes, could run into a constitutional challenge:
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.”
Separately, California voters will consider a referendum this fall to allow “waivers” to the state’s constitutional ban on the use of race in state government — the latest assault on Proposition 209, which voters even in this deep-blue state have defended.
These bills are the first legislative effort by any state to adopt reparations. A few small cities have done so: the first, in 2021, was Evanston, Illinois, which offered small housing grants to black residents who had experienced residential segregation in the past.