CA State Assembly passes bill focused on reinstating affirmative action

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ACA 5, the bill repealing California’s ban on affirmative action, passed through the California State Assembly on Wednesday.

The bill nullifies Proposition 209, which bars state and governmental public institutions from discrimination based on one’s race, gender and ethnicity, according to ACA 5’s text.

ACA 5 intends to address issues of inequality in the state that occurred when the state’s “equal opportunity program was upended” by the authorization of Prop. 209, the bill’s text states.

According to a press release from Assemblymember Shirley Weber, who introduced the bill among others, ACA 5 is the first bill giving a path back to affirmative action to pass through one chamber of the California State Legislature. It will move to the state Senate floor before the legislative measure deadline June 25, in order to appear on voters’ ballots in November.

“Since becoming law in 1996, Proposition 209 has cost women-and minority-owned businesses $1.1 billion each year,” Weber said in the press release. “It has perpetuated a wage gap wherein women make 80 cents on every dollar made by men and has allowed discriminatory hiring and contracting processes to continue unhindered.”

The bill’s text also references Prop. 209 as a factor in the lack of students and faculty of color.

UC Berkeley alumnus and student organizer Dominick Williams said Prop. 209 was a “roadblock” to progress on campus. Williams also discussed the realities of the lack of diversity on campuses.

“It’s kind of a running joke how there are Black students on campus that have to be involved in six or seven different organizations,” Williams said. “There’s just so much need, so much work to be done.”

According to Williams, the need for a bill such as ACA 5 was discussed in conversations with Weber during her campus climate hearings at UC Berkeley, which focused in part on issues caused by Prop. 209. Student leaders, especially Black student leaders, have “really fought” for the bill, said Williams.

The bill states that it will increase the number of opportunities for historically marginalized students.

“If we’re able to bring back affirmative action, we can start the process of moving, of actually, truly honestly representing California’s diversity to our higher education system,” said UC Student Association President Varsha Sarveshwar.

Sarveshwar added that she felt it was “impossible” for higher education systems to be welcoming of minorities without affirmative action.

Williams said many people who have called Weber’s office are “very upset” about ACA 5.

“The most common misconception that ACA 5 tends to bring is that we are trying to give a leg up to people who may or may not be a little bit less qualified than others,” Williams said. “That’s just not the case.”

Williams added that “institutional discrimination and historical failings” needed to be rectified in both the state and the country.

Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KellyNguyen_DC