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Bill would create state racial equity office

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Ryan Konrad
Staff Writer

A racial equity bill is working its way through the California legislature, with hopes that it will reach Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk by the fall.

Senate Bill 17, which was introduced on December 7, 2020, would establish an Office of Racial Equity, which would require state agencies to develop and implement a “Racial Equity Action Plan” as part of an effort to reduce racial inequities in California.

The bill has to pass the Senate by June and the California Assembly by mid-September to reach the governor’s desk before the Oct. 15 deadline, said Joaquin Arambulam, D-Fresno, one of the bill’s co-authors.

The new office would be led by the Racial Equity Advisory and Accountability Council, consisting of nine representatives from equity-focused organizations and appointed by the state’s elected officials.

The office would be modeled after similar efforts primarily in Oregon and San Francisco, which has operated an Office of Racial Equity since 2019, said Kimberly Chen, spokesperson for Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento who is the bill’s author.

“One of the key goals is to create a place to centralize strategy around what the state’s work on equity looks like, it’s great that the state is doing this and has been putting resources towards it,” Chen said.

She added that while many state agencies have already been making efforts to promote racial equity, the bill hopes to provide more guidance and streamline efforts.

 “I think we’re really chiefly concerned about what this [rule is] up to, what does it look like statewide for equity work, and what is the level of public accountability once these racial equity plans are developed,” Chen said.

The Racial Equity Action Plans the bill would require would acknowledge the historical impact and legacy of racism and racial inequity of the agency or department implementing the plan. The bill’s text also includes a list on racial injustices and discrimination perpetrated by the state of California since before its admission into the union in 1850.

“Government has been part of creating the problems and ought to play a role in dismantling that,” said Chen.

The office would also be independent from state agencies and departments.

“Our intent in having an independent office is to have some level of oversight that is able to criticize the administration or the legislature in that role,” Chen said.

The plans must be updated every two years and must submit progress reports to the office.

The chapter of the bill establishing the office is set to repeal itself, or sunset, in 2029, at the request of Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, citing a need for accountability and oversight, Chen added. Dodd is the chair of the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization.

“We think that the oversight is the fact that they’’ll be producing reports and looking at equity … but his view is that there are a lot of new bills that always ask for the creation of offices and councils, and he likes to have some limitations on those,” said Chen.

The disproportionate impact of the pandemic has also highlighted the need for racial equity. In California, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and Hispanic/Latinos had the highest deaths per 100,000 people, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

“Racism is a public health emergency, and we have to call it out to make sure that we are addressing the systems that may contribute to these inequities,” said Arambula.

Arambula said he personally hopes that immigrant communities and the disabled have a voice at the table.

“We need to make sure that all of those who are vulnerable are able to fight for equity,” he added.

Ryan Konrad can be reached at ryan.konrad@laverne.edu.

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