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California mulls millions in reparations costs after Newsom declares budget emergency

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(The Center Square) – California is considering spending $12 million on pending reparations-related legislation after the governor declared a budget emergency, an act that allows the use of state rainy day funds to plug the deficit.

At the low end, reparations bills with finite costs add up to approximately $4.3 million per year. However, with some potential programs such as spending savings from prison capacity reductions on gun violence reduction programs or making food a public health benefit for millions of Californians having unknown cost estimates ranging from hundreds of millions to tens of billions of dollars per year, the combined cost of these proposed programs — if adopted — would significantly expand state financial obligations.

Printed on the fiscal analysis of many bills was the warning, “According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), the General Fund faces a structural deficit in the tens of billions of dollars over the next several fiscal years.”

The $12 million in the pending bill is the product of negotiations late last month by State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, a leading reparations advocate in the State Senate and Vice Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

“Although we wanted more, I’m deeply appreciative of the $12 million in the state budget for reparations,” Bradford said in a statement. “Even in these tough fiscal times, this funding is a clear reflection of our priorities and values as a state.”

While some news organizations such as the Associated Press and New York Times reported on the spending being included in the state’s already-signed main budget bill, the state’s “junior” budget bill, AB 108, is still pending, just as the bills that would create reparations policies to spend the money on.

When passed, AB 108 would allow the California Department of Finance to spend up to $12 million in the 2024-2025 fiscal year on reparations policies, including several pending Bradford bills not included in California’s California Legislative Black Caucus unveiled a series of 14 reparations bills earlier this year, chief among which is Bradford’s SB 1403.

This bill would create the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency and its Genealogy Office and Office of Legal Affairs to find out which individuals are descended from African American individuals who were enslaved and thus qualify for reparations, and would cost an estimated $3-5 million per year to establish and operate the agency at the outset. The bill would direct CAFA to implement the state’s reparations task force’s recommendations, which included paying eligible black residents of California could up to $1.2 million, according to CalMatters.

Bradford’s SB 1050 would require CAFA’s Office of Legal Affairs to investigate “racially motivated eminent domain” and return taken property or offer financial compensation. This bill would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” passed the Senate and awaits Assembly passage.

AB 1929, which was announced by CLBC as a bill to “expand access to career technical education by creating a competitive grant program to increase enrollment of descendants (of slaves) in STEM-related CTE programs at the high school and college levels,” passed as a zero-cost disaggregation of existing collected data for an existing grant program. This bill passed and is going to the governor’s desk for approval.

AB 3131, announced as a bill to provide “Career Education Financial Aid for redlined communities,” prioritizes local educational agencies that receive Equity Multiplier funding from the state for existing workforce development grants. This bill would produce $322,000 in one-time costs, and “could potentially result in additional, unknown Proposition 98 General Fund cost pressure.” This bill has not passed either legislative body.

ACA 7 would create exemptions for the state constitution’s ban on discrimination or preferential treatment in public employment, education, and contracting. These exemptions would apply to programs that improve life expectancy, educational outcomes, or lift out of poverty “specific groups based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, or marginalized genders, sexes, or sexual orientations.” The bill has passed the Assembly and is pending in the Senate, and comes with no direct costs outside of approximately $1 million for the printing of the constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by a majority of voters.

ACR 135 is a no-cost declaration that would have the state government accept responsibility for slavery and discrimination and its role in protecting the descendants of the enslaved. The bill passed the Assembly and now is in the Senate.

AB 1815, a no-cost bill which would add hairstyles including “braids, locs, and twists” to racial anti-discrimination protections, passed the Assembly and is in the Senate.

SB 3089, another no-cost bill, would have the state issue an apology for harms to African Americans. This bill passed the Assembly and is in the Senate.

ACA 8 is a constitutional amendment that would abolish involuntary servitude in prisons, but would not prevent prisons from offering credits to individuals who voluntarily take work assignments. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says this measure could come with significant costs if “courts require incarcerated individuals to be paid minimum wage for work performed in prison.” This bill passed and requires approval from the majority of voters in the November election.

AB 1986 would require CDCR to post a list of banned books for inmates online and allow the Office of the Inspector General to review past and future book bans. This no-cost bill passed the Assembly and faces the Senate.

AB 2064 would require the state to spend money saved from reducing prison capacity on community-based gun violence prevention programs, and could, because it spends savings, cost “hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” according to legislative analysis. The bill passed the Assembly and goes to the Senate floor.

AB 1975 would make food count as a health benefit covered by MediCal, the state’s public health care program; the Department of Health Care Services estimates the bill would cost $17.6 billion per year if 7 million Californians make use of the benefit, half of which would come from federal match funding. The bill has passed the Assembly and faces a final Senate floor vote before it goes to the governor’s desk.

SB 1089 would require grocery stores and drug stores to provide at least 60 days’ notice before shutting down, comes with no cost, and must still pass the Assembly.

AB 2862 would require state licensing boards to prioritize descendents of African American slaves in licensing applications, which legal experts say is likely unconstitutional. The no-cost bill passed the Assembly and now faces the Senate.

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