California Senate advances reparations legislation including bill to create reparations agency News
David Jiang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
California Senate advances reparations legislation including bill to create reparations agency

The California Senate passed legislation Tuesday that, if approved by the state assembly, would create an agency to implement policies and facilitate reparations for descendants of chattel slaves, while also authorizing the compensation of Black families whose land was seized under the state’s eminent domain power.

S.B. 1403 would stop short of appropriating state funds for the reparations and would instead focus on creating administrative infrastructure for such a program while S.B. 1050 would address restitution for “racially motivated uses” of eminent domain.

The California American Freedmen Affairs Agency would implement the recommendations from a reparations task force created in 2020 to study and develop proposals aimed at remedying the legacy of slavery and its effects on African Americans. The new agency’s duties would include building a process to verify genealogical research that individuals would be required to show so they could qualify for benefits and oversight of other government agencies charged with implementing potential reparations policies.

State Senator Steven Bradford who introduced the bill cited the state’s responsibility to correct the “harms of slavery,” including systemic racial injustice that lasted long after slavery’s end.

The other bill, also sponsored by Senator Bradford, defines “racially motivated eminent domain” and would authorize the agency to distribute “just compensation” for descendants of individuals whose land was seized with racist motivations without remittance.

While California was a so-called “free state,” the state participated in fugitive slave laws by repatriating escaped slaves across state lines. Additionally, more than 2,000 slaves were brought to the state to work in gold mines during the 1850s and 1860s with the state unable or unwilling to enforce its own prohibitions against slavery.

Opponents to the proposals criticized the use of tax dollars from citizens around the state to compensate descendants of black families who had their land seized and the creation of an agency before actual reparations had been approved, especially in light of the state’s predicted multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

The state senate’s actions are the furthest a US state has gone toward approving reparations and follows a recently approved law in New York establishing a committee to explore remedies for the institution of slavery and its long shadow.