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Why lawmakers disagree on California reparations

By Lynn La 

Three months after the California Legislative Black Caucus unveiled a series of priority bills to address reparations, some advocates say the measures don’t go far enough to compensate eligible Black Californians for the lasting damage of slavery. 

And some lawmakers are pushing legislation outside the bill package to extend the reach of reparations even further, reports Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team.

But Chris Lodgson, an organizer with the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, argues that the bills are “almost insulting” — especially after the state’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations spent two years deliberating and holding public hearings to develop the recommendations.

Democratic Sen. Steven Bradford of Inglewood, who was a member of the task force and is in the last year of his final term, said that while the caucus bills are a great start, “there’s much more heavy lifting that will be needed.” He has introduced bills focused on descendants of enslaved persons, which include creating a state agency to administer reparations and established financial assistance to help descendants of enslaved people buy homes.

The differing sets of bills highlight the debate over how far the state should go to rectify the wrongs of slavery — and how much it’s willing to spend.

Though none of the bills include direct cash payments, 60% of California voters oppose reparation payments for Black residents. Public enthusiasm for racial justice has also appeared to have waned since the task force’s formation in 2020, after the police murder of George Floyd.

Figuring out how to pay for the various reparations measures — even as the state faces a multibillion-dollar shortfall — is one hurdle some legislators say they must overcome. 

  • Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Los Angeles Democrat and task force member: “A group of people gave free labor for 400 years…. We need to be able to figure out a way to excise money so that it can be brought back into the Black community.”

Speaking of budget constraints: CalMatters Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff watched state lawmakers quickly pass, along party lines, an early action budget package last week, sending Gov. Gavin Newsom a plan to reduce the looming deficit by $17 billion. It includes some program cuts, but mostly relies on new revenue, internal borrowing and funding delays and shifts for savings — the majority of which cannot take effect until officials negotiate the rest of the state spending plan later this spring.

While Republicans objected to the early budget proposal as mostly gimmicks that would not address the underlying reasons for California’s deficit, Democrats said it makes substantial progress in addressing the shortfall. Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, a Salinas Democrat, touted a provision freezing one-time funding from past years that he said would provide billions of dollars of options for the final budget agreement in June.

  • Rivas, to reporters: “Because of that longer structural nature of this deficit, we don’t know what to expect in future years. We’re very concerned to ensure that we have the appropriate amount of savings if this budget deficit gets any worse moving forward.”


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