Prop 209 changes spark protests

Updated: 2014-02-28 13:12

By China Daily (China Daily USA)

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Amid an inflamed fight against a proposed constitutional amendment that could potentially harm Asian Americans' chances of being admitted to California state universities, the architect of the bill, Senator Ed Hernandez, said he is willing to sit down and talk with Chinese community leaders before taking any further action.

"Senator Leland Yee just called to say that he has just got an agreement from the sponsor of the bill, Sen Hernandez, that he will not promote SCA 5 first, but will meet the Chinese leaders and then decide," said Frank Lee, president of the Castro Valley, California-based Organization for Justice and Equality on Feb 27.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, or SCA 5, was passed by the state Senate on Jan 30. It would allow public schools such as the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) to use race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin as a consideration in accepting students.

It would repeal portions of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that prohibited using race or gender in admission decisions. California was the first state to ban such discrimination "in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting" through Prop 209.

Yee was one of three Democrat Chinese-American senators among the 27 votes that carried the bill through the state senate. The other two were Carol Liu and Ted Lieu.

The three senators have been receiving verbal protests online from Chinese communities in the US since the voting, as the bill, though intended to promote diversity and increase minorities' chances of attending colleges, could punish Asian-American students once it becomes law.

Currently the number of Asian Americans admitted to public colleges seems to be overrepresented compared with its proportion in the state population. It made up about 36 percent of total admissions to UC in the fall of 2013, while the Asian-American population in the State is only about 14 percent.

The three senators issued a press release on Feb 27 stating their stance on the bill.

"As lifelong advocates for the Chinese American and other API communities, we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children. Prior to this vote, we heard no opposition to this bill. However, in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California concerned about SCA 5," the press release says. "As a result, we have asked Sen Hernandez to hold SCA 5 until he has an opportunity to meet with affected communities and attempt to build a consensus."

But the word "hold" has caused some confusion.

"The bill has already passed the senate, so Hernandez is supposedly done with his business," said Shue Haipei, veteran lobbyist and president of the National Council of Chinese Americans. "There shouldn't be anything he can do to stop the bill from going to assembly."

"There is word Hernandez put a hold on SCA 5. We are investigating what this really means for us," said Chris Zhang, San Francisco-based attorney and keen advocate for Chinese community affairs.

Hernandez' office replied that the senator has been in talks and is willing to hold more talks with the Chinese community. However, it does not mean he is going to withdraw or stop the bill from going to the state assembly.

"He is not pushing anything or making anything going fast forward right now. It's actually a very slow process," said a spokesperson from Hernandez' office. "He wants to give time for not only the Chinese community to be heard, but as well as everyone, all the stakeholders."

Shue said the bill still has to pass different levels of pertinent committees at the assembly before a final vote is possible, which could be a long time.

If approved by the assembly, which like the senate is also Democrat-dominated, the measure could go on to a ballot in November, most likely in 2016 to coincide with the next presidential election. The legislature can get the voters to weigh in without Governor Jerry Brown's support.

Hernandez has written similar bills in the past, though vetoed by the then-incumbent governors. This time he said he proposed a constitutional amendment so that the decision on reversing Prop 209 would go to the people instead of the governor.

Chinese communities, calling the bill "Skin Color Act 5", have initiated a series of grass-root measures to fight it. There are two ongoing petitions online and a public demonstration is also planned for Friday, Feb 28 at 11 am in front of Democrat state Assemblyman Ed Chau's office in Monterey Park, CA.

Chau announced on Feb 26 that he doesn't support SCA 5 in its current form, but will continue talking with all stakeholders to find a solution in order to improve the education system.

He is one of the Chinese-American Democrat assemblymen - together with Phil Ting and Paul Fong - whose votes could be crucial to swing the fate of the bill, according to Albert Wang, chair of theAsian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA).

"They have a lot of Chinese-American voters in their constituency, so it would be a safe choice to veto the bill," said Wang, one of the initiators of a town hall meeting in Cupertino, CA on Sunday to inform voters about the bill and discuss strategies to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

Zhang Yang contributed to this story and can be reached at

(China Daily USA 02/28/2014 page2)