California Governor Signs Bills to Address Systemic Racism and Treatment of Children


California Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday signed a slate of bills targeting the legacy of racial injustice in the state’s legal system and implementing important changes in the treatment of children.

The governor signed two sweeping bills aimed at confronting racial bias in the state’s criminal justice system. AB 3070 tackles illegal racial discrimination in jury selection, and AB 2542, the “California Racial Justice Act,” prohibits prosecutors from seeking, obtaining, or imposing a criminal conviction or sentence on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.

Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions.

Governor Newsom

The governor also signed AB 3121, making California the first state to create a state-based task force to study and make recommendations on reparations for slavery. The bill establishes a nine-member task force to educate Californians about slavery and explore ways the state might provide reparations to Black Californians.

“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 statement. “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.”

Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who sponsored AB 3070 and AB 3121, said California needs to confront and address the systemic injustice that stems from its history.

“[W]e have not come to terms with our state’s ugly past that allowed slaveholding within our borders and returned escaped slaves to their masters,” she said in a statement. “Neither have we effectively addressed our present justice system which allows prosecutors to bar African Americans from serving on juries.”

Governor Newsom also signed several bills to support young people coming out of the criminal justice system and to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. One bill takes the first, formal step of closing the Division of Juvenile Justice as part of a plan to phase out state-run youth prisons and instead provide resources to counties for rehabilitative services.

Another bill will end the practice of referring children who are having problems at school to probation programs. A separate bill expands on protections passed in 2017 by requiring that all children under age 18 must be able to consult with an attorney before they decide whether to waive their constitutional rights and speak to police during an interrogation. An additional bill will cancel certain fees assessed on juvenile offenders and their families.

The governor also signed bills that cap probation terms at a maximum of one year for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felonies, ban the use of the carotid restraint statewide, and require the California Attorney General to conduct investigations into officer-involved shootings of unarmed individuals that result in death.