A bill to allow school districts and cities to choose investments not issued or owned by the country of Turkey passed the Senate unanimously 36-0 on Thursday.
Senate Bill 457, authored by Senators Anthony J. Portantino (D- La Canada Flintridge) and Scott Wilk (R- Sanata Clarita) would specifically the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) administration boards to provide employers that are school districts and cities that participate in the systems an option to elect an investment portfolio that does not contain investment vehicles that are issued or owned by the government of the Republic of Turkey.
Both Senator Portantino and Senator Wilk wrote the divestment from Turkey bill to help place more economic pressure on Turkey as a message to the country that California stands behind Armenians in both acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and standing with them in the recent Artsakh war. SB 457 would create a way for Armenian-American Californians who are members of CalSTRS and CalPERS to not relive trauma and inadvertently support Turkey through investments.
“SB 457 would impose much needed economic consequences on a regime that continues to engage in an ongoing campaign of genocide denial,” said Senator Portantino on Tuesday. “Public employees in my district who are members of CalSTRS and CalPERS are descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors and had to relive the intergenerational trauma during the recent Artsakh war, in which Turkey was heavily involved. I believe divesting from Turkey sends a strong message to the world that California does not do business with genocidal regimes and countries with a history of civil and human rights abuses. It is consistent with our basic humanitarian principles.”
A bipartisan backed bill
As many Armenian-Americans are spread throughout California, with some cities such as Glendale in Los Angeles County having as many as 40% as their total population, the bill has attracted major support from Republicans and Democrats alike. This includes the bipartisan authorship of the bill by Senators Portantino and Wilk, both of whom have districts with high Armenian-American populations.
“SB 457 sends a message to the Turkish government that silence is not an option and until the Turkish government acknowledges its shameful history, California will stand in solidarity with our Armenian brothers and sisters,” stated Senator Wilk. “I look forward to the day when this important bill becomes law.”
In recent years, many Californian agencies have divested from investment in Turkey, such as the University of California system in 2017. Many bills have also been written to help acknowledge the existence of the Armenian Genocide in the early 1900’s and to condemn both Turkey and Turkish-supported Azerbaijan for actions committed against Armenia throughout the years. One such bill currently in the Legislature this session, AB 1019, would halt all Turkish investments by the state and would keep the practice in place until Turkey acknowledges their role in the Armenian Genocide.
SB 457 has received little to no opposition, with only Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) voting against the bill in an earlier Senate committee and then not voting in the broad Senate vote on Tuesday.
“When a bill says that you can choose to not have to invest in a country that committed genocide against your family 100 years ago, it’s not going to have a lot of people go against it,” explained Glendale lawyer Eddie Qasabian to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s really great to see so many politicians, from both parties, stand up in support of Armenia like this.”
SB 457 will next move on to the Assembly where it is expected to be heard in committees soon.
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