During the weekend, a recently amended bill that would create a task force to issue recommendations on reparations for African Americans in California was passed in both the Senate and Assembly during floor votes, moving the legislation on to the Governor.
AB 3121 and the reparation task force
Assembly Bill 3121, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), would establish the “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.” The task force, comprised of 9 members selected by the Governor, Assembly, and Senate based on Civil Rights, Civil Justice, and lawmaking expertise, would look into issues surrounding slavery in California, such as not admitting runaway slaves and other policies before the end of the Civil War.
The task force would then set perimeters on who would possibly be eligible for reparations, what those reparations should be, and how they would be distributed. The Task Force would then submit a report and recommendations to the Legislature upon completion of the study. The Legislature would then possibly vote or act on the findings and reparation ideas given.
Since being introduced and passed by the Assembly earlier this year, AB 3121 had been amended in small but impactful ways. The number of task force members was increased from 8 to 9 to avoid any tie votes, with the Governor being given more people to choose for the task force, from the original 2 to 5. The Assembly and Senate were given fewer with the amendments, from each house going from the original 3 to 2.
The wording on who the bill would cover was also changed from “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved” to “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, with a Special Consideration for African Americans Who are Descendants of Persons Enslaved” to help make it clear that reparations would only go to those who had family members that were slaves before the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
Reasons behind AB 3121
Assemblywoman Weber had written the bill as a way to right the wrongs of the past and to help fix the post-1865 racial injustice caused by the institution of slavery such as housing discrimination and fewer opportunities stemming from racism.
“California was nominally a ‘free state,’ but in practice we allowed slavery within our borders even after statehood, while runaway slaves were often denied sanctuary by the courts,” stated Assemblywoman Weber earlier this year. “After emancipation, California and local municipalities allowed or even actively pursued discriminatory practices akin to those found in the South to deny former slaves and their descendants access to housing, quality education, employment, fair wages, voting rights and the practice of professions.”
11 Assemblymembers and 2 Senators joined Assemblywoman Weber in co-authoring the bill, adding on to her reasoning after the bills passage in both houses this weekend.
“If the 40-acres-and-a-mule that was promised to free slaves were delivered to the descendants of those slaves today, we would all be billionaires,” said Senator and AB 3121 co-author Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). “I hear far too many people say, ‘Well, I didn’t own slaves, that was so long ago.’ Well, you inherit wealth — you can inherit the debt that you owe to African-Americans.”
‘California was a union state – there was no slavery here’
Those who opposed the bill pointed out that California had little to do with slavery, as it had been a free state during the Civil War and was highly diverse at the time due to high amounts of immigration from Asia and other parts of the world, as well as many Hispanic settlers either staying or coming over following the Mexican-American War.
“Reparations make little sense,” noted legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe. “A task force is one thing, like what AB 3121 wants, as it would find, conclusively, what the toll has been for African Americans. But having them recommend what should be given? Hinting that payment should be monetary, if not more? It’s going way too far.”
“California was a union state. There was no slavery here. No one alive was involved in this institution anywhere. That’s it. Period. Legally, that should be it.”
In a previous Globe interview, Weaver also explained the difficulties in deciding who should receive reparations if thee bill is passed.
“That’s not even getting into who should receive what,” said Weaver earlier this year. “It’s a legal minefield. If it’s ‘all black people,’ does that include an immigrant who came over from Ethiopia in 1993? Does it cover mixed race people? What percentage until they can’t? How can they prove it? Do they have genealogy that traces it back? What’s the approved method? There’s hundreds of other questions that would pop up too.”
AB 3121 was passed by large majorities during the weekend, 33-3 with 4 abstentions in the Senate, and 58-12 with 9 abstentions in the Assembly. Recent events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as well as the lingering sentiment following the George Floyd protests earlier this year, partially fueled the large gaps in voting. While it was a largely partisan vote in both houses, members of both parties did abstain, with some Republicans, such as Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), voting for approval.
The bill is now on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk where it is likely to be signed by the end of September.