New York lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill that would create a commission to consider reparations for slavery.
The bill passed, 106-41, in the Democratic-controlled state Assembly, largely along party lines, after three hours of spirited debate.
If signed into law by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, the bill would establish a nine-member commission that would examine the extent to which the federal and state government were complicit in slavery. The governor and legislative leaders would each appoint three qualified members to the commission.
The law would also address lingering economic, political, and educational disparities experienced by Black people in New York State.
“We want to make sure we are looking at slavery and its legacies,” said state Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages before the floor debate. “This is about beginning the process of healing our communities. There still is generational trauma that people are experiencing. This is just one step forward.”
According to the New York bill, the first enslaved Africans arrived at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, then a Dutch settlement, around the 1620s.
“These first enslaved Africans cleared forests, prepared land for agriculture and built an infrastructure of roads, buildings and walls of timber and earthwork, including the wall that gives Wall Street its name,” the bill reads.
While the state Legislature enacted a statute that gave freedom to enslaved Africans in New York in 1817, it wasn’t implemented until July 4, 1827.
The commission would be required to deliver a report one year after their first meeting. Their recommendations would be non-binding, meaning the legislature would not be required to take them up for a vote.
During floor debates Thursday, Republican state Assembly member Andy Gooddell said he was concerned lawmakers “we’re opening a door that was closed in New York State almost 200 years ago.”
He said he supports existing efforts to bring equal opportunity to all and would like to “continue on that path rather than focus on reparations.”
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who is the first Black person to hold the position, called the legislation “historic.”
“The commission would be charged with looking at the history of New York and looking where we can build a bridge to healing” Solages said. “Those inequalities won’t simply resolve themselves.”
The state Senate is expected to debate the bill days before the legislative session is slated to end.
New York is following the lead of California, which became the first state to form a reparations task force in 2020. That group recommended a formal apology from the state on its legacy of racism and discriminatory policies and the creation of an agency to provide a wide range of services for Black residents. They did not recommend specific payment amounts for reparations.
In California, the reparations task force said in their report that the state is estimated to be responsible for more than $500 billion due to decades of over-policing, mass incarceration and redlining that kept Black families from receiving loans and living in certain neighborhoods. California’s state budget last year was $308 billion.
Last month, Gov. Newsom declined to endorse the cash payments – which could reach as high as $1.2 million for a single recipient – recommended by his reparations task force, telling Fox News Digital that dealing with the legacy of slavery “is about much more than cash payments.”
On the federal level, a decades-old proposal to create a commission studying reparations has stalled in Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.