CA’s AHEAD Act awaits in Senate while Civil Liberties Public Education Program restarts

Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s AB 1726, the AHEAD Act, would require the state of California to further disaggregate demographic data on Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

If enacted, the bill would require the state  to individually count various Asian groups, including Bangladeshi, Hmong, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese and Thai people, as well as Fijians and Tongans among other Pacific Islanders. Currently, state law requires Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, Laotian, Cambodian, Hawaiian, Guamanian and Samoan people be counted separately.

Having passed the state Assembly, the bill has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it will be heard Monday, Aug. 1 after the legislature reconvenes after summer recess. While a similar bill, AB 176, passed the legislature last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. Brown said in an Oct. 7, 2015 statement, “I am wary of the ever growing desire to stratify. Dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow. To focus just on ethnic identity may not be enough.”

Proponents of the bill, however, contend that it is an important step to better identifying unique issues faced by certain communities.

Jon Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Community Youth Council in San Francisco told the Nichi Bei Weekly that his organization, along with other API youth nonprofits released a report in 2004 calling for the disaggregation of data. “I’m sure we were not the first group to realize that in order to understand the challenges of specific API populations, there had to be more effort put into identifying the social economic, education, health and other indicators for each community,” he said. “Unfortunately most government entities do not want to put the effort into disaggregating data.”

Richard Chang, director of policy for Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, told the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail that the 340,000 estimated Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders living in California are often lumped into one category. “This effectively renders our communities, as well as smaller Southeast Asian communities, invisible,” he said.
“(S)weeping some of the fastest growing communities under the rug won’t make the issues or challenges we face disappear,” Chang said. “As the federal government and other states like Utah have recognized, disaggregated data can be a powerful tool for identifying and improving outcomes for communities.” Chang noted that Utah’s Department of Health discovered, after disaggregating demographic data in 2005, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were found to have the highest aggregate infant mortality rate in 2010 and the second highest rate in 2015, while the more-general “Asian/Pacific Islander” category indicated they had the lowest.

Meanwhile, the state has appropriated a one-time $1 million fund to reestablish the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, according to State Librarian Greg Lucas. Lucas said the program’s former advisory committee members asked Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to add the funds for the fiscal year, which started July 1.

While funding would only be for this year, Dale Shimasaki, a former advisory committee member, said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly that he was “grateful” that Ting had appropriated the funds.

From 1998 though 2011, the CCLPEP funded nearly $9 million in grants to 366 projects “to sponsor public educational activities and development of educational materials to ensure that the events surrounding the exclusion, forced removal, and internment of civilians and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry will be remembered, and so that the causes and circumstance of this and similar events may be illuminated and understood.” The program — established by legislation authored by then-state Assemblyman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) — was defunded in 2010 as a result of major budget cuts to the California State Library that same year.

“We’ll shortly be reaching out to members of the former advisory board,” Lucas said. He said he now hopes to contact former advisory committee members to help go over the previous projects funded by the program and evaluate how best to use the funds. Lucas said the library would like to ensure the projects previously funded by the program are easily accessible to as many Californians as possible through preservation and digitization efforts, but he also said that new projects could be considered and funded as well.

“I think the priority should be to tie the incarceration to similar issues we face today,” Shimasaki said. He went on to say former committee members asked Ting to make the one-time fund in light of the renewed rhetoric advocating for the mass incarceration and scapegoating of refugees and immigrants today.

While Shimasaki said he has not been in contact with Lucas recently regarding what to do with the funds, he agreed that some funds could be used for preservation and digitization to enable wider access to the projects.

The fund is to be expended prior to the end of the current fiscal year, which will conclude June 30, 2017.

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