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Panel Votes to Advance Reparations Bill04/15 06:06


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House panel advanced a decades-long effort to pay 
reparations to the descendants of slaves by approving legislation Wednesday 
that would create a commission to study the issue.

   It's the first time the House Judiciary Committee has acted on the 
legislation. Still, prospects for final passage remain poor in such a closely 
divided Congress. The vote to advance the measure to the full House passed 
25-17 after a lengthy and often passionate debate that stretched late into the 

   The legislation would establish a commission to examine slavery and 
discrimination in the United States from 1619 to the present. The commission 
would then recommend ways to educate Americans about its findings and 
appropriate remedies, including how the government would offer a formal apology 
and what form of compensation should be awarded.

   The bill, commonly referred to as H.R. 40, was first introduced by Rep. John 
Conyers, D-Mich., in 1989. The 40 refers to the failed government effort to 
provide 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to newly freed slaves as the Civil War 
drew to a close.

   "This legislation is long overdue," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic 
chairman of the committee. "H.R. 40 is intended to begin a national 
conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans 
during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the enduring structural racism 
that remains endemic to our society today."

   The momentum supporters have been able to generate for the bill this 
Congress follows the biggest reckoning on racism in a generation in the wake of 
George Floyd's death while in police custody.

   Still, the House bill has no Republicans among its 176 co-sponsors and would 
need 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate, 50-50, to overcome a filibuster. 
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were unanimous in voting against the 

   Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the 
commission's makeup would lead to a foregone conclusion in support of 

   "Spend $20 million for a commission that's already decided to take money 
from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery and give it to 
people who were never subject to the evil of slavery. That's what Democrats on 
the Judiciary Committee are doing," Jordan said.

   Supporters said the bill is not about a check, but about developing a 
structured response to historical and ongoing wrongs.

   "I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not ignore the pain, 
the history and the reasonableness of this commission," said the bill's 
sponsor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

   Other Republicans on the committee also spoke against the bill, including 
Rep. Burgess Owens, an African American lawmaker from Utah, who said he grew up 
in the Deep South where "we believe in commanding respect, not digging or 
asking for it." The former professional football player noted that in the 
1970s, Black men often weren't allowed to play quarterback or, as he put it, 
other "thinking positions."

   "Forty years later, we're now electing a president of the United States, a 
black man. Vice president of the United States, a black woman. And we say 
there's no progress?" Owens said. "Those who say there's no progress are those 
who do not want progress."

   But Democrats said the country's history is replete with 
government-sponsored actions that have discriminated against African Americans 
well after slavery ended. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., noted that the Federal 
Housing Administration at one time refused to insure mortgages in Black 
neighborhoods while some states prevented Black veterans of World War II from 
participating in the benefits of the GI Bill.

   "This notion of, like, I wasn't a slave owner. I've got nothing to do with 
it misses the point," Cicilline said. "It's about our country's responsibility, 
to remedy this wrong and to respond to it in a thoughtful way. And this 
commission is our opportunity to do that."

   Last month, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, became the first U.S. 
city to make reparations available to its Black residents for past 
discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery. The money will come from 
the sale of recreational marijuana and qualifying households would receive 
$25,000 for home repairs, down payments on property, and interest or late 
penalties on property in the city.

   Other communities and organizations considering reparations range from the 
state of California to cities like Amherst, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode 
Island; Asheville, North Carolina; and Iowa City, Iowa; religious denominations 
like the Episcopal Church; and prominent colleges like Georgetown University in 

   Polling has found long-standing resistance in the U.S. to reparations to 
descendants of slaves, divided along racial lines. Only 29% of Americans voiced 
support for paying cash reparations, according to an Associated Press-NORC 
Center for Public Affairs Research poll taken in the fall of 2019. Most Black 
Americans favored reparations, 74%, compared with 15% of white Americans.

   President Joe Biden captured the Democratic presidential nomination and 
ultimately the White House with the strong support of Black voters. The White 
House has said he supports the idea of studying reparations for the descendants 
of slaves. But it's unclear how aggressively he would push for passage of the 
bill amid other pressing priorities.

   Members of the Congressional Black Caucus brought up the bill during a 
meeting with Biden at the White House on Tuesday.

   "We're very comfortable with where President Biden is on H.R. 40," Jackson 
Lee told reporters after the meeting.

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