Why California should toughen standards for electric trucks

By LESLIE AGUAYO
The Mercury News

 

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, surges in online holiday shopping bring more than packages to our doorsteps. Every time we check out, we order fleets of heavy-duty delivery trucks to our streets, and toxic diesel pollution into our air. Even if shipping is free, our lungs, our communities, and our climate pay a steep price.

Online shopping doesn’t need to cost us our health or our climate: California has a historic opportunity to change the way we ship goods, for good. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is currently establishing the nation’s first electric truck manufacturing standard. If CARB passes a bold standard, California will jumpstart the electric truck industry, meaning more zero-emissions trucks on our roads and fewer toxic emissions in our air.

But, as currently drafted, CARB’s proposed rule is too weak, despite undeniable evidence that Californians suffer from an air quality crisis that requires aggressive policy intervention. The proposed rule only requires four percent of trucks on the road by 2030 to be zero-emissions electric trucks. While 4% is a start, it does not meet the scale of the worsening air pollution crisis — which exposes more than 90% of Californians to unhealthy air at some point during the year.

The draft rule also fails to protect communities living in “diesel death zones” — within one-third of a mile of a highway, port, warehouse distribution center or other freight corridor —with chronic exposure to truck exhaust. We know that African American and Latino Californians face 43% and 39%, respectively, higher rates of fine particulate matter pollution than white Californians, exposing them to health consequences like asthma, heart and lung diseases, cancer and premature death.

The good news is that we have the technology to address this air pollution problem. The heavy-duty truck market is naturally moving toward zero-emissions trucks, and all-electric trucking fleets will soon be the norm. Electric trucks are on the market from several manufacturers, with more on the way, and plans for adoption are already in the works. Here in the Bay Area, the West Oakland Community Action Plan in partnership with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have proposed transitioning to zero emission drayage truck operations by 2035. Private corporations such as Frito Lay, UPS, FedEx and Amazon have also committed to incorporating electric trucks to their fleets.

But our communities and our climate don’t have the luxury to wait for the market to move itself, especially as the online shopping and shipping industries grow rapidly. There are already 1.9 million heavy-duty trucks on California’s roads; in Southern California alone, the number of miles driven by trucks is projected to grow by 80% between 2008 and 2035. If we continue with business as usual and ignore the harmful impacts of diesel trucks, air pollution and smog in our state will continue to worsen.

CARB has a critical opportunity to once again lead the nation—and the world—in tackling air pollution and spurring a job-creating clean-air industry. With the right policies and training programs, this growing electric vehicle industry can offer family-supporting opportunity to workers from underserved communities.

We have all the parts required to set a competitive, health-protective electric trucks standard: the zero-emissions technology, the manufacturer buy-in, and a track record of bold leadership from CARB. CARB must wave the starting flag and set truck manufacturers on a race toward innovating the shipping industry and cleaning up the air for California’s most polluted communities.

Leslie Aguayo is the environmental equity program manager for the Greenlining Institute.

Why 20 Government Offices You’ve Never Heard of Are Key to Financial Recovery

The Huffington Post
by: Preeti Vissa

It’s no secret that the recent financial crisis devastated communities across the nation, and that it hit vulnerable communities — particularly communities of color — the hardest. Critical steps have begun to mend the damage and create a regulatory system equipped to avert the next crisis by better representing and responding to these communities, but we still have a long way to go.

In the Wall Street reform bill, officially called the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Congress specifically acted to ensure that the needs of communities of color were addressed. A key mechanism for this was Section 342 of the law, which established Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWIs) in 20 major financial regulatory agencies. These offices are charged with increasing diversity in each agency and the businesses they regulate.

Why is this important?

People of color are an important force in this country. We constitute a majority in places like California, New Mexico, Texas, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, and are projected to be the nation’s new majority in less than 30 years. If communities of color don’t prosper, America can’t prosper. In 2008, we learned the hard way what happens when regulators neglect these communities, which were disproportionately targeted by predatory lenders and suffered higher rates of foreclosures.

To do their job properly, financial regulators — the people in charge of securing our economic future — must understand how their policies affect these communities. And that’s why we desperately need people of color in these positions — people who have lived and breathed how financial policies and institutions impact their communities.

Section 342 mandates that the OMWIs “develop standards for equal employment opportunity and the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the workforce and senior management of the agency.” While overall workforce diversity is important, it particularly matters that people of color are represented in senior management — the decision-makers. Sadly, a 2012 Greenlining Institute report found that this isn’t the case. The OMWI reports issued this spring (with data from 2012) confirm that diversity in these positions continues to be generally, and sometimes frightfully, lacking.

It’s clear that the OMWIs face a lot of challenges, but after two years, they have yet to produce the diversity standards for senior management that the law requires. Without clear standards, the OMWIs aren’t fully carrying out their mission.

Of course, it helps to know where you are before trying to decide where to go and how to get there. Section 342 mandates that the OMWIs report to Congress every year about the diversity of their agencies, but there is no requirement for how they report this information. As a result, the OMWIs’ latest annual reports are all over the map in terms of detail and specificity. The agencies even have different definitions of what constitutes “senior management,” making comparisons between agencies impossible.

In order to do their job and develop diversity standards that make sense, the OMWIs need to report their findings in a uniform fashion and clearly break down diversity distribution by race and job position. Right now, most of them don’t.

Some of the OMWI’s 2013 Annual Reports give more robust breakdowns than others. Agencies like the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, National Credit Union Association, and the Securities and Exchange Commission break down their workforce diversity among racial and ethnic categories, and also by rank throughout their respective agencies. How they report these breakdowns, however, is inconsistent. Other agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency only give general overviews of the racial makeup of their workforce. It’s important to know how those diverse staffers are distributed throughout the agencies — how many, for example, are in positions with real authority? — and what kinds of barriers they may face.

The good news is that no one needs to reinvent the wheel to do this. There’s already a great template out there that shows workforce breakdown by race and rank. It’s issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and is currently used by the OMWIs in the Federal Reserve System Banks and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in their reports. Use of this EEOC template should become standard practice, and quickly. The OMWIs are due to release their standards in the summer of 2013, and need to get their own houses fully in order before they move on to the next stage of their mandate: monitoring diversity at financial institutions in the private sector.

I know a lot of this probably sounds like bureaucratic drudgery. It’s not. People’s backgrounds shape their world views and priorities, so the diversity of decision-makers has very real implications for folks on the ground.

While there’s no way to know whether the financial crisis would have been prevented if regulators were more diverse, I know one thing for certain: Government should look like America. We still have a long way to go, but we can get there. The OMWIs can serve their intended purpose as the vehicle to ensure that all are represented, but only if they can first get this stuff right.

Follow Preeti Vissa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greenlining

Who's Grabbing Your Wallet? A Missed Chance to Help Consumers

Huffington Post
by: Preeti Vissa

In mid-July the recently-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued its first-ever fine, hitting Capital One with a $165 million penalty for misleading consumers into buying extra credit card products. While good news in one sense, CFPB’s action also illustrates a serious flaw in our financial regulatory system that has yet to be remedied.

The fine is good news because Capital One has a long record of predatory behavior toward its credit card customers. In this case, the company pressured those customers into buying additional services like credit monitoring and payment protection. In its announcement, CFPB noted that other institutions engage in similar practices, and they can all expect a crackdown.

Good. That’s exactly the sort of thing CFPB should be doing.

Continue reading “Who's Grabbing Your Wallet? A Missed Chance to Help Consumers”

Who's Buying Up Your Neighborhood?

The Huffington Post
by: Preeti Vissa

Last week, Urban Strategies Council, a smart and savvy nonprofit in Oakland, Calif., caused a bit of a local stir with a report looking at who’s been buying up foreclosed properties in their city — a town that’s been seriously hit by the foreclosure crisis. What they found is almost certainly not limited to Oakland, and should be cause for discussion nationwide.

Continue reading “Who's Buying Up Your Neighborhood?”

When Banks Swallow Each Other, You Deserve a Voice

The Huffington Post
by: Preeti Vissa

The massive wave of bank megamergers that took off in the 1990s had plenty of unfortunate results, including the invention of the phrase “too big to fail.” Fewer mergers are happening now – mainly because there are far fewer banks left to merge – but the ones that do happen can have a huge impact on communities, and those communities deserve a voice.

They don’t have nearly enough of a voice now.

Bank mergers must be approved by federal regulators, and those regulators do accept written public comments, but they only occasionally hold public hearings. The process is cumbersome and hard to navigate, laden with industry jargon and complex documents. Too much of the time, it doesn’t give the public an effective voice.

On the one hand, in an era when government seems distant and detached from the needs of ordinary Americans, it’s good that there is some mechanism in place for citizens to have a voice. But without public hearings, that voice is muted.

Case in point: As I write this, Pacific Western, a bank which operates throughout California, is seeking approval from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to acquire CapitalSource Bank, which operates in the southern and central portions of the state. Neither of these banks is huge by modern standards, but their merger, if approved, will affect communities all over the state.

Thanks to an important and little-known law called the Community Reinvestment Act, we know a fair amount about these banks and how responsive they’ve been to the needs of the communities they serve. The idea behind CRA, passed in 1977 is to evaluate banks on their community development lending – the sorts of local investments that create jobs, expand homeownership, develop affordable housing, and help small businesses grow. And at a time when so many people feel disenfranchised and voiceless, those CRA evaluations are a valuable mechanism for community input.

As The Greenlining Institute’s recent letter to the Fed and the FDIC notes, CapitalSource has an outstanding record. It received an “outstanding” rating in its last CRA evaluation, devoting 12 percent of its assets to community development lending. CapitalSource justifiably touts its community involvement on its home page, which links to a full page of information on the bank’s community involvement.

Pacific Western appears to have nothing like that on its website, apparently for good reason. It got a “low satisfactory” rating on its last CRA evaluation. It’s not hard to get a “satisfactory” rating, and “low satisfactory” is roughly the equivalent of your child coming home from school with a D or D+ on her report card – not too impressive. While Pacific Western’s community development lending did increase from an abysmal 0.9 percent to 2.8 percent, that’s still less than one quarter of what CapitalSource is doing.

In response to Greenlining’s criticism, Pacific Western has asserted that it “intends to be a leader in CRA in its assessment areas.” But the bank conceded that an “outstanding” rating is unlikely at present, and was rather thin on the specifics of how it would get there.

If Pacific Western is going to be allowed to swallow a smaller bank with an outstanding community development record, we’d like to see the Fed and the FDIC insist on a concrete, measurable plan to improve its engagement with the community. Until such a plan is put forth, the merger shouldn’t be allowed.

Just as important, the communities affected should have a voice in this decision beyond the clunky and cumbersome process of filing written comments. Regulators should hold public hearings and invite input from the real people – residents, small business owners, nonprofit and community leaders – in the towns and neighborhoods that will be affected. We’ve proposed hearings in three different regions of California.

Bank mergers may seem like distant, arcane transactions far removed from our day to day lives, but they affect real people and real communities. You deserve a voice.

Follow Preeti Vissa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greenlining

What’s ‘Waste’ to the Oil Lobby

San Francisco Chronicle
By Alvaro Sanchez and Bill Magavern

Big Oil must love income inequality and our country’s shocking racial wealth gap. The industry’s latest campaign aims to perpetuate these injustices while attacking California’s efforts against climate change.

The Western States Petroleum Association, lurking behind the front group “CARE” (Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy), has launched a website claiming California wastes millions of dollars in its effort to reduce carbon pollution — a bogus claim.

Under California laws, big polluters must buy permits to emit climate-changing carbon into the air. That money, collected via state-run auctions, then goes to fund projects that further reduce pollution and promote clean energy and transportation. Thanks to a law that we sponsored, SB535, at least one-quarter of those funds must benefit disadvantaged communities with the worst pollution and most economic hardships — often low-income communities of color.

These reductions are in addition to emissions reduced by critical policies like the low-carbon fuel standard.

Those dollars are at work today: helping low-income families weatherize their homes, improving public transit, expanding solar power, paying for cleaner cars, trucks and buses, planting trees in urban areas, putting affordable housing near public transit, and more. That’s what the oil lobby calls “waste.”

The price of carbon at auction has hovered just under $13 per ton. Remember, that’s what polluters pay to continue polluting from existing factories, power plants and other facilities that burn oil, coal and gas.

The oil industry’s math geniuses have discovered that it costs more to build clean transportation and energy infrastructure than it does to keep using old, dirty facilities. In Big Oil’s twisted logic, that’s “waste.” Worse than comparing apples to oranges, they’re comparing apples to the cost of planting a new orchard.

That’s crazy. But it gets even worse when you look at the climate investments that the oil lobby calls “waste.”

For example, two of the eight projects its website slams involve putting affordable housing near public transportation. Here in the Bay Area, we understand the need for both affordable housing and transit.

We looked at one project funded by these climate investments, West Gateway Place in West Sacramento. This green-certified, walkable community will put affordable homes in close proximity to bike lanes, rail lines, bus lines, and car and bike shares. By promoting walking, biking and transit use, it will reduce carbon emissions enough to equal taking more than 140,000 cars off the road.

But that’s just the start. By providing low- and moderate-income families a decent, affordable place to live, these projects change lives. We spoke to Esther Robert, who lives in a nearby affordable housing development, having overcome struggles with addiction. “Because of affordable housing, I can be secure and OK and keep moving forward,” she told us. “If I didn’t have this place, my kids would have been in the (foster care) system.”

We must build a new, clean-energy economy if we are to survive. California has chosen to do so in the best way possible, by bringing its benefits to those who need it most.

If you’ve been impacted by air pollution, climate change, or benefited from California’s climate investments like the ones we’ve described, we invite you to share your story athttp://bit.ly/1XmaIRn

What the Senate Needs to Ask Tom Wheeler

The Hill
by: Stephanie Chen

The nomination of Thomas E. Wheeler, longtime president and CEO of the Cellular Telecom and Internet Association, to head the Federal Communications Commission has produced predictable bursts of praise and criticism. Both sides make some valid points, but the simple truth is that we don’t know where Wheeler stands on some of the most critical issues the FCC will face in the coming years — issues that will have a huge impact on consumers.

We live in an era in which telecommunications technology, and particularly broadband, has become a necessity, as important to economic survival as food and water are to bodily survival. Before confirming Wheeler’s nomination, the Senate should insist on clear, specific answers to the following questions:
Competition: In many communities, particularly in rural areas or lower income neighborhoods, there are fewer carriers offering service than in higher income, urban or suburban areas. At the same time, modern “basic” technologies like wireless and broadband are lightly regulated, as compared to the old copper phone network. What role should the FCC play in improving competition in currently underserved areas, so that we can get closer to universal service?

Availability: In many areas of the country, especially in rural areas or tribal lands, you still can’t get broadband service even if you want it and could afford it — the network simply isn’t built there. This leaves millions of Americans with significantly diminished ability to grow and thrive. How can the FCC achieve universal broadband deployment?

Affordability: In many areas where broadband networks do exist, low-income customers can’t afford to sign up, which perpetuates the digital divide. In an era when applications for even entry-level fast-food jobs are handled online, this stifles economic opportunities for those who need them most. What can the FCC do to make broadband more affordable for low-income consumers?

Advanced Services: Increasingly, telephone service is moving to Internet-based (VoIP) systems, but to the customer, a phone call is a phone call. Customers aren’t concerned with what technology is involved; they care that service is reliable, available and affordable. Given that reality, how should the different technologies used to provide voice services be regulated? Should the type of wires determine the sort of regulation needed, or should the function the technology serves for the customer be the determining factor? And given that it is used to make phone calls, is VoIP a communications service or an information service? What should be the role of the states in regulating those services?

Today the U.S. lags behind much of the industrialized world in broadband speed and quality. What can we do to guarantee subscribers in the United States the same quality and speed found in places like Japan and South Korea?

Preemption: Should local governments be allowed to construct their own telecommunications networks, especially in areas where service providers have not built out their networks?

The telecommunications universe is evolving rapidly, and today some of America’s most vulnerable communities — the communities where unemployment rates are at Great Depression-era levels of 15 percent or more, rather than the 7 and a half percent national average — are being left behind. Ultimately, that will hurt our whole economy. All of us need to know how the next FCC chairman sees this complex landscape, and how he plans to make sure these essential services are within reach of all Americans.

Chen is energy and telecommunications policy director of The Greenlining Institute, greenlining.org.

What If You Had to Dial 911 — and Couldn’t?

Huffington Post
by: Preeti Vissa

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: Your child is badly hurt, no one else is around, and you need help — now. So you pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1 to call an ambulance.

What if you got a recording saying, “We’re sorry, that service is not available”?

Shockingly, that might start happening to some telephone users. Our telephone networks are changing, and it’s up to the Federal Communications Commission to decide whether the basic standards we’ve been used to since the 1930s will continue to apply.

Slowly but surely, telephone carriers are upgrading their systems, ditching the old copper-wire networks in favor of newer, digital technology. That is in many ways a good thing, with lots of potential benefits. But, as my colleagues at The Greenlining Institute discovered when researching their latest report, it could also cause severe harm to everyone who uses a phone.

Without going too heavily into the technical details, the FCC will soon need to decide whether a phone call is sometimes not a phone call. Bizarre as that sounds, that’s what some phone companies are arguing. They say that if a phone call uses digital technology, it’s not actually a phone call, it’s an “information service.” That means the standards that cover phone service wouldn’t apply, and your call would instead be governed by the far looser rules that apply when you use Google, YouTube, Yahoo or other Internet-based information services.

But if you’re making a call — to your spouse, your boss, your child’s school or 9-1-1 — it makes no difference what technology is carrying the signal from your phone to theirs. To you and me, a call is a call, period.

The Telecommunications Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, recognized that phones aren’t a luxury; they’re a necessity of modern life. It empowered the FCC to make sure our telephone network provides “adequate facilities at reasonable cost” by enforcing certain basic standards. Among other things, those standards now guarantee that telephone service must be available to everyone, include access to emergency services, and have service quality good enough that you can actually have a conversation with the person on the other end of the line.

These standards guarantee that you can have a phone even if you live in a rural area where phone companies may think there are too few customers to bother with. They assure that even people with low incomes can have access to basic phone service at affordable prices. And they ensure that if you need an ambulance or police or the fire department, you can call 9-1-1 and actually reach someone.

As the parent of a child who is about to turn two years old, that last one matters a lot to me.

But if the FCC decides that digital phone networks are merely “information services,” all of those protections for consumers are at risk. Some phone carriers may continue to offer these important services, but there is no way to be sure.

No doubt the affluent would still have ways to pay for whatever phone services they need, but what about the less well-off? Lower-income consumers could lose access to affordable phone service. Communities of color — who are less likely to have home broadband access and are more likely to have just one sort of phone service that they depend on for access to information, job offerings, community or school events, and emergency services — could face some of the worst consequences. Everything from help in an emergency to pathways to economic opportunity will be affected.

So what will the FCC do? We don’t know. Thus far, the commission has declined to take an explicit position. But new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a recent speech at Ohio State University, said, “The evolution of network technology changes neither the responsibility of networks to the greater society, nor the FCC’s mission to protect the public interest.”

That’s encouraging, but also pretty general. The FCC is due to take up the issue at its December 12 meeting, but it likely will take some time before making any solid decisions. What it chooses to do will affect all of us.

What Do We Have to Lose? Lots! Attack on Obamacare Continues the War on People of Color

The Huffington Post 
By Orson Aguilar

In February, I wrote that the thread that seems to connect nearly all of the policy ideas coming from the Trump administration and Congress seems to be an attack on communities of color. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.

No proposal better exemplifies the war on Americans of color than the attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” And that won’t change whether or not the current “Trumpcare” replacement proposal passes the House of Representatives later today.

Multiple surveys have documented the huge drop in Americans without health insurance since the ACA took effect, with most estimates putting the number who have gained insurance at about 20 million. A number that massive cuts across all races and ethnicities, but when you dig into the numbers, the story gets really interesting.

The uninsured rate peaked in the fourth quarter of 2013, just as the ACA was starting to kick in. At that time, according to Gallup, 11.9 percent of white Americans lacked health coverage. For African Americans the uninsured rate was nearly double that at 20.9 percent. And a staggering 38.7 percent of Latinos had no health insurance, more than triple the uninsured rate for non-Hispanic whites.

Gallup did not report health insurance figures for Asian Americans, but other data show an average uninsured rate for Asian Americans of 15 percent, with huge variations between nationalities, and native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders at about 18 percent uninsured.

This huge racial health insurance gap stems from a number of causes. In many cases, people of color are less likely to work for employers or in occupations that include employer-paid coverage. When it comes to paying for insurance yourself, America’s yawning racial wealth gap rears its ugly head. According to the last figures reported by the U.S. Census, for every dollar of wealth a white family has, the median Asian American family has 81 cents, the median Latino family has about seven cents, and the median African American family has less than six cents. For too many families, the money just isn’t there.

The ACA did a lot to close the gap in health insurance rates. For whites, the percentage lacking health coverage dropped by five percentage points, according to Gallup. For African Americans the uninsured rate dropped by 8.4 points, and for Latinos the drop was a staggering 11.3 points.

And while we don’t have Gallup figures for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, we know they tended to be early adopters of Obamacare at higher rates than the U.S. average, and their uninsured rate dropped by more than half after the law went into effect.

We have every reason to expect these gains to vanish if the ACA is repealed and replaced with anything like the current proposal, which has been almost universally denounced by major medical and health organizations because it would take coverage away from so many.

Make no mistake: While Trumpcare would be bad for all Americans, it targets Americans of color for the most severe damage. And the struggle the president and the House GOP have faced trying to scrounge up enough votes to pass their plan doesn’t change that picture. After all, the reason Speaker Paul Ryan had to postpone Thursday’s scheduled vote was because the far-right “House Freedom Caucus” insisted on making the bill even crueler and meaner than it already was. While some Republican moderates have seemed genuinely alarmed at how many people would lose coverage, a larger faction seems intent on making sure that what insurance Americans could still get would be so riddled with loopholes as to be nearly useless when people actually get sick.

Even if the current version of Trumpcare goes down to the defeat it deserves, the attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act will continue (remember, the administration has already begun to sabotage the law administratively, regardless of legislation). And it’s just one part of an ongoing, multipronged attack on Americans of color.

We Speak Over 200 Languages. Why Do Our Ballot Initiatives Speak Only One?

Capitol Weekly
By Michelle Romero, Nisha Balaram

Ballot initiatives are playing an increasingly important role in setting policy in California, on nearly every issue from education to same-sex marriage, but today millions of Californians are excluded from a crucial part of the process.  Despite a long history of struggle to gain voting rights in this country and to ensure that all eligible citizens can exercise this right freely, millions of citizens who do not speak English very well have no say in determining what gets on the ballot.

This is not a hard problem to fix. Senate Bill (SB) 1233, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley) and sponsored by The Greenlining Institute, would make initiative petitions language accessible and enable more Californians to participate. This important legislation will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee May 14.

Right now, voters who are limited-English proficient (LEP) are left completely out of the process of determining what initiatives qualify for the ballot. They are also at risk of manipulation by signature gatherers who may speak the voter’s language but misstate the details of a petition, since the voter has no way to verify whether the gatherer is telling the truth.

Initiative proponents also suffer because they lack the tools necessary to involve LEP voters in signature drives that they might want to support.

According to Migration Policy Institute, California’s LEP population grew by 56 percent from 1990 to 2010, to roughly 6.9 million, which includes nearly half of California’s naturalized citizens. The U.S. Census definition of LEP includes anyone who responded less than “very well” to the question, “how well do you speak English?” Given our state’s large LEP population, it is unacceptable that we continue to deny the rights of so many to participate in direct democracy.

The Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 outlawed discrimination in voting, with a series of provisions designed to ensure that all eligible citizens can exercise their right to vote free from intimidation or discrimination. Section 203 of the law specifically requires counties with large LEP populations to provide elections materials in the groups’ languages.

For California, this means we provide voting materials, such as ballot pamphlets and sample ballots, in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Hindi, Khmer, and Thai. But there has been disagreement as to whether or not the VRA covers initiative petitions that are being circulated in hope of making it onto the ballot.

If passed, SB 1233 would solve this problem by requiring the state to provide translations of ballot initiative titles and summaries in each of the languages covered by the VRA, before supporters begin gathering signatures. The translations would appear on the petitions themselves when circulated in counties covered by the VRA. California was one of the states that pioneered creation of the initiative process a century ago, and SB 1233 gives us another opportunity to show leadership. If it passes, California would become the first state to mandate language accessible initiative petitions, raising the bar for the rest of the nation.

The initiative system was created so that the people could hold their government accountable  – all of the people, not just some of them. Passing SB 1233 will ensure that all citizens can participate in our democracy.

Michelle Romero is Claiming Our Democracy Program Manager and Nisha Balaram is SB 1233 Policy Coordinator for The Greenlining Institute.