SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom this week signed a first-in-the-nation law to study and make recommendations on reparations for slavery to the Black community through a state-based task force. He also signed two bills targeting structural racism and bias in the legal system by prohibiting the use of race, ethnicity and national origin to seek or obtain convictions or impose sentences, and to reduce discrimination in jury selection.
“As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions,” Governor Newsom said in a news release. “California’s rich diversity is our greatest asset, and we won’t turn away from this moment to make right the discrimination and disadvantages that Black Californians and people of color still face. While there is still so much work to do to unravel this legacy, these pieces of legislation are important steps in the right direction to building a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”
The Governor signed AB 3121, which establishes a nine-member task force to inform Californians about slavery and explore ways the state might provide reparations. The bill would require the task force to recommend, among other things, the form of compensation that should be awarded and who should be eligible for this compensation. Read the bill here.
The Governor also signed Assemblymember AB 3070, which would strengthen jury selection procedures and increase transparency to ensure attorney challenges to exclude jurors are not for discriminatory purposes. Both AB 3121 and AB 3070 were authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego).
“California has historically led the country on civil rights, yet we have not come to terms with our state’s ugly past that allowed slaveholding within our borders and returned escaped slaves to their masters,” said Weber said in a news release. “Neither have we effectively addressed our present justice system which allows prosecutors to bar African Americans from serving on juries. The Governor’s signature on AB 3121 and AB 3070 once again demonstrates that our state is dedicated to leading the nation on confronting and addressing systemic injustice.”
The Governor also signed AB 2542, which would prohibit the use of race, ethnicity or national origin to seek or obtain convictions or impose sentences. Known as “The California Racial Justice Act,” AB 2542 is a countermeasure to address a widely condemned 1987 legal precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of McCleskey v. Kemp. The McCleskey decision has the functional effect of requiring that criminal defendants prove intentional discrimination when challenging racial bias in their legal process. This is a high standard and is almost impossible to meet without direct proof that the racially discriminatory behavior was conscious, deliberate and targeted.
Additionally, Governor Newsom signed AB 979, which requires publicly held corporations headquartered in California to have at least one director from an underrepresented community by the close of 2021.
In addition to the 2021 benchmark, AB 979 also requires corporate boards to include two members from underrepresented communities for corporations with more than four members, while corporations with more than nine must have a minimum of three by 2022.
The bill defines a director from an underrepresented community as an individual who self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native, or who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.