On April 22nd, California Assemblymembers Mike Gipson, Cristina Garcia, Adrin Nazarian, Luz Rivas, and Mark Stone introduced House Resolution 39, which calls for an analysis of the equity impacts of all legislation passing through the state assembly. HR 39 comes at an important juncture during the COVID-19 crisis. We have an opportunity to intentionally integrate equity in recovery efforts, both on the state level and nationally. Ensuring a just and equitable recovery post-pandemic requires confronting disparate racial impacts of government policies and processes. However, legislators lack data pertaining to the equity impacts of proposed legislation on our most vulnerable communities. Policymakers must have access to this information in order to make informed decisions about bills that could have negative unintended impacts on marginalized communities. Our current social, political, and economic circumstances call for mechanisms that uplift government policies that generate the greatest equitable impacts. HR 39 would do just that.
In partnership with Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, The Greenlining Institute is sponsoring HR 39, a resolution that empowers and encourages the State Assembly to include information about the social equity impacts of proposed legislation in committee and floor analyses. One way this information could be gathered is by encouraging committee consultants to integrate equity impact questions in their background assessment and questionnaire forms. These additional data points could provide more information on the potential harms and benefits of proposed legislation for vulnerable communities. Current bill analyses do not typically screen for inequitable impacts of legislation, which hinder policymakers’ ability to make informed decisions. This measure would more formally incorporate equity into the processes of assembly committees.
Racism is at the Root of Health & Economic Disparities
Inequity does not happen by accident: Historically, the government has played a significant role in creating and maintaining health and economic disparities. Decades of government-sponsored racial discrimination and segregation, for example, have produced conditions of injustice for communities of color today:
- Wealth and income gaps: In California, Black families are twice as likely to find themselves at the bottom of the income distribution than at the top, while the opposite is true for white families.
- Mass criminalization: Despite representing only 6% of California’s population, Black people account for 25% of the state’s jail population and 29% of the prison population.
- COVID-19 disparities: Latino people account for 55% of COVID-19 cases and 46% of deaths while only 39% of California’s population.
- Homeownership: Black and Latino homeownership rates have dropped significantly over the last 15 years, resulting in a 10% decline for Black people.
- Health and mortality: Nationally, Black mothers are 3 times as likely to die from childbirth than White mothers.
Racialized policies and government practices led to these injustices, and race-conscious policies will be necessary to repair them.
Equity Impact Analysis Training for Committee Consultants
Racial equity advocates and community-based organizations are mobilized to support the State in this commitment. On March 26th, 2021, The Greenlining Institute, in collaboration with PolicyLink and Education Trust West, presented a training on including equity impact analysis questions and relevant data sources in the legislative process to state assembly committee consultants. We introduced the questions included in Greenlining’s equity questionnaire toolkit and presented an example of what implementation could look like. Each recommended question aims to address some of the root causes of health and economic inequities, including the racial wealth gap, redlining, and language barriers:
- Does this bill increase opportunities, services, or support for low or moderate income communities?
- If implemented, will this bill help close the wealth gap for communities historically impacted by redlining?
- If implemented, will this bill reduce health inequities and disparities in quality of life for communities that have been historically impacted by redlining?
- Will this bill have any limitations or negative impacts for households that are predominantly non-English speaking?
The qualitative equity questions are meant to be integrated alongside the other questions included in floor and committee analyses. While there are still gaps in data availability on racial disparities in key indicators like health, housing, and poverty, much of the qualitative information needed to answer these questions is widely accessible in government databases and research publications. Members of the Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development, as well as Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy, have already adopted some of the equity questions into their analyses.
Momentum Behind Race-Conscious Policy
Advocates have pushed the state of California to work towards similar ends in other areas of race equity policy.
- SB 17, co-sponsored by Greenlining, was introduced by Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) last year. The bill would establish a state Office of Racial Equity and a Racial Equity Advisory and Accountability Council. If enacted, the office would identify existing state policies and practices that exacerbate racial disparities; study and recommend strategies for advancing racial equity throughout state agencies; develop a Racial Equity Framework for the state to develop Racial Equity Action Plans; and create an assessment tool to determine whether annual allocations “benefit or burden communities of color.” Symbolically, the bill would also declare racism a public health crisis. The Office of Racial Equity will complement our efforts to institutionalize equity with this resolution.
- Last year, Gov. Newsom approved AB 3121 to establish the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. The Task Force will convene in June and has a year to develop and propose its recommendations to the legislature. This is a significant first step in getting a reparations package for Black Californians, which could narrow racial wealth gaps and improve quality of life for our communities.
These efforts demonstrate an increased prioritization of race-conscious policy at the state level, and the urgency of such action in the wake of the pandemic and national protests against police violence.
Looking Forward -- Call to Action to Support HR 39
HR 39 gives us a chance to be proactive in our fight for equity, critically analyzing legislation before it can harm our communities. Incorporating equity impact assessments into the legislative process and making this information public would allow the public to hold lawmakers accountable.
Organizations can join us in our call to invest in equitable solutions and maximize benefits for underserved communities by signing and submitting a letter of support to Assemblymember Ken Cooley, Chair of the Rules Committee.
Brianna Wells is Greenlining’s Health Equity Fellow. You can follow her work on Twitter.