California Assembly shelves affirmative action proposal

Updated: 2014-03-19 11:07

By AI Heping in New York (China Daily USA)

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A proposed amendment to California's constitution, which would have used affirmative action in determining admission to public universities and caused a backlash among Chinese Americans, is dead for this year.

Assembly Speaker John Perez said on Monday that the bill - known as SCA-5 - did not have the two-thirds vote needed in the Assembly to get on the ballot in November. He said the bill's sponsor, Senator Ed Hernandez, asked that the bill be returned to the Senate, which had approved it in January. Hernandez's office said he will seek to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

"The overwhelming majority of the Legislature in both houses believes broadly that we have an obligation to provide the broadest access to our three higher education institutions," Perez told reporters. "When you get to the specifics of the SCA itself, however, that level of support does not exist."

Perez said he wants lawmakers to form a task force to study access to higher education in the state. He said the task force will include legislators, academics and representatives from the state's higher education system.

Hernandez had said that the main purpose of SCA-5 was to admit more students of color - African-Americans, American Indians and Latinos - from groups underrepresented at California state schools.

Supporters of SCA-5 said that campus diversity has declined under Proposition 209, the constitutional amendment passed in 1996 which took effect two years later and barred the use of race, ethnicity or gender in college admissions. If passed, SCA-5 would have repealed parts of Proposition 209.

Asians said the proposed amendment would cut .college enrollments for Asian Americans.

Three Chinese-American senators - Leland Yee, Ted Lieu and Carol Liu - voted yes for SCA-5 but later pulled back on their support after being criticized by constituents.

"As lifelong advocates for the Asian- American and other communities, we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children," the three wrote in a joint letter issued last week.

Lieu praised Perez's decision to return the bill to the Senate. "Without action in the Assembly, SCA-5 is dead for the year," he said in a statement.

Olivia Liao, head of the 40,000-member Joint Chinese University Alumni Association of Southern California, said she was "happy" that SCA-5 was not moving ahead this year, but that she was concerned about it returning in 2016.

"I think we need to continue to monitor this bill and continue to influence our legislators," Liao told the Sacramento Bee.

Carl Chan, a Chinese community leader in San Francisco and a member of Asian Americans for Political Advancement (AAPA), praised the Chinese community for coming together to understand the potential impact of SCA-5 on parents and students.

He said SCA-5 would have created conflict among the state's minorities.

"What we need to do is put more resources in education so that everyone who has a desire to pursue higher education can," he told China Daily. "It's not about Asian, Hispanic or African American. It's about all of us, it's about everyone having the opportunity for higher education instead of fighting between minorities."

Aminta Wong, a Chinese housewife in Silicon Valley who is pregnant, said the fight against SCA-5 is about her baby's future in the United States.

"The fight for justice will never stop. It's the first lesson for us to learn how to be a minority and protect our rights in the US," she said.

Chen Jia in San Francisco contributed to this story.

(China Daily USA 03/19/2014 page2)