Summer/Fall 2014

Continuing the Fight to Eliminate Racial Disparities

By Michael D. Reed, NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.

14 01-NCSLquad1 249(Left to Right) Rep. John Mizuno (HI), Rep Carolyn Pease-Lopez (MT), Sen. Brian Taniguchi (HI), Rep. Rhonda Fields (CO), NBCSL President-elect Sen. Catherine Pugh (MD), Rep. Mark Wheatley (UT), Rep. Catherine Miranda (AZ).On July 9-11, 2014, NBCSL reconvened in Seattle, WA with the National Asian Pacific Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL), the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators (NCNASAL), and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) as the Quad Caucus.  

The Quad Caucus was established in 2012 through the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing grant, with the goal to move toward dismantling structural racism, promoting racial healing, and reducing the barriers that keep children (particularly children of color) impoverished. The Seattle meeting was the seventh overall, and the first meeting of 2014.

Each Quad Caucus meeting hones in on a new set of policy areas related to structural racism, racial disparities, and the welfare of children. Previous meetings have focused on a range of topics, including housing discrimination, school discipline, and dental health, each with the goal of providing legislators with a diverse set of tools to improve outcomes for children of color.  

The most recent Quad Caucus meeting was geared toward furthering racial healing and the disparity work of the previous six meetings, and guiding the participants to develop their own set of policy priorities moving forward. The meeting began with a unique welcome reception at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Designed to deepen bonds between members, legislators split into teams and received a cooking lesson before competing with one another to produce the best dishes. Each group was tasked with developing its own recipe and cooking its dishes with locally-sourced ingredients.

On Thursday morning, members took part in a session on state-level racial equity legislation. Representatives from each caucus discussed bills that have been successfully enacted to address racial disparities and improve equity.

Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos of NAPACSL presented on legislation that she led to tackle education disparities within the state. In her presentation, Rep. Santos noted that while Washington’s overall population is majority white, the public school population is predominately minority, and that racial disparities in the state have been wide and persistent. Her bill built upon the recommendation of Washington’s Education Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee, which limited exclusionary discipline, improved cultural competence training for teachers and school personnel, and aligned the English Language-Learning curriculum with academic requirements in other subjects. The bill also required school districts to collect disaggregated data on students, include race, ethnicity, and sub-data, to better monitor issues facing students.

Next, members heard from Washington State Senator John McCoy from NCNASL. Senator McCoy spoke on the unique issues facing Native American communities in the State of Washington. He shared a set of legislative initiatives geared towards state-tribal relations, particularly related to criminal justice, domestic violence against women, and jurisdictional issues. Senator McCoy also discussed legislation that he passed to improve tribal history curricula in Washington public schools, specifically with respect to Washington state tribes.

Following Senator McCoy’s presentation, members heard from Maryland Senator Catherine Pugh, NBCSL’s President-Elect. Senator Pugh presented on a series of bills she led in her state on economic empowerment for minority-owned businesses. The bills require the state to conduct disparity studies in opportunities and outcomes for minority-owned businesses by extending the scope of the state’s minority business enterprise program. They also identify shortcomings in minority business development and procurement by state agency and disaggregate data to ensure all minority-owned businesses are receiving the same amount of supports as other businesses in Maryland.  Senator Pugh also discussed legislation that calls for the state to procure with minority-owned businesses when contracting out state-based financial services, which has increased the state’s minority business contracts from $300 million to $4.2 billion in just two years.

Illinois Senator William Delgado, a member of NHCSL, addressed the Quad Caucus next with a presentation about legislation he led in his state. This legislation aimed to assist community groups with identifying and helping individuals suffering from mental health disorders or crises. Senator Delgado also discussed his legislation to extend the period for physicians to disclose criminal convictions, disciplinary actions, and other relevant information to patients. Finally, he highlighted federal and national sources of funding for community health centers that are underutilized.

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NAPACSL Chair Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (WA).

Rounding out the session, members heard from Dr. Ngozi Oleru, Division Director of the Environmental Health Services Division in King County, Washington. Dr. Oleru discussed the King County Equity and Social Justice Initiative, which began in 2008 as an executive initiative to ensure that county services take into account racial, geographic, and income disparities so that they may best deliver services. Operating on a principle to be “fair and just,” the initiative’s goal is to proactively deliver equitable results for county residents. The success of the executive initiative led to the development of a county ordinance and strategic plan in 2010 to statutorily incorporate the fair and just principle into all levels of county work.

At lunch, members were treated to a discussion with Seattle’s famed Gang of Four. The Gang of Four, also known as the Four Amigos, was a multicultural collective of four civil rights leaders who were active in movements in Seattle beginning in the 1960s.  The panel featured the two surviving original members including Larry Gossett, who currently serves as a King County Councilman, and Bob Santos, who is the Executive Director of the Seattle International District Improvement Association. Also on the panel were Iris Friday, daughter of Native American civic leader Bernie White Bear, and Estela Ortega, widow of Roberto Maestas, who founded El Centro de La Raza Community Center in Seattle. The panel spoke about the Gang of Four’s collaborative efforts in the fight for racial equality in Seattle.

On Thursday afternoon, the members broke into groups to learn about another racial or ethnic group and deepen bonds across caucuses—again, furthering racial healing while exposing members to the rich and diverse cultural traditions of the Seattle area. The activities included a historical and cultural tour of Seattle’s Chinatown neighborhood and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, a narrated tour of the Puget Sound Waterfront Harbor, and a tour of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

On Friday morning, members broke into eight small groups to continue their focus on racial healing. Each group, consisting of at least one member of each caucus, was provided with a set of personal questions to ask each other with the goal of better understanding their individual racial experiences and how those experiences have shaped them as legislators.

Immediately following the Racial Healing Breakout sessions, small groups partnered to focus on establishing policy priorities in the following areas: education, health, juvenile justice, and economically secure families. The members were assigned to each group based on their expertise, leadership, or interest level in the topic.  The groups were tasked with developing a short set of policy priorities to improve outcomes for children of color. Although each group discussed an individual area, many of the priorities members developed overlapped. Groups shared the following recommendations once reunited in the large group.

Education Recommendations

  • Embed cultural competency in teacher preparation programs, professional development and training and education evaluation;
  • Create a funding formula that fairly and equitably supports all students regardless of geographic social or economic characteristics; and
  • Develop a seamless Pre-K to Ph.D. education system and break the school-to-prison pipeline, all of which includes parental and family engagement.

Health Recommendations

  • Address social determinants of health to eliminate chronic diseases and health disparities (racial/ethnic), and improve health outcomes in communities of color by targeting resources;
  • Elevate oral health to its own category to put it on the same level as mental and physical health;
  • Create comprehensive nutrition education and awareness program; and
  • Increase immunization rates by requesting the federal Department of Health and Human Services to update immunization records nationwide and broaden eligibility for providers to immunize, while providing the latest immunization.

Juvenile Justice Recommendations

  • Emphasize restorative over punitive justice with tools such as mental health services, counseling, and mentorship;
  • Eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline by reforming school discipline, implementing Positive Behavioral Intervention Interventions and Supports (PBIS), cultural competency training for teachers and school personnel, and access to diagnostic services; and
  • Implement educational tools to keep students on track to graduate, including feedback on status of students’ school work and attendance, virtual credit recapture, early interventions in reading, wrap around schools, and nontraditional schools.

Secure Families Recommendations

  • Enact comprehensive policies to support children from the womb through their career, including strong education systems, financial literacy for children and families, and integrated workforce readiness programs;
  • Ensure that all communities have the proper infrastructure in place to foster economic growth and community development. Vital components include Quality affordable housing for different types of families/households; strong public transportation options; and broadband/technology access;
  • Encourage economic development and job creation in communities of color by incentivizing business development through as tax credits, economic programs, and empowerment zones. Support minority owned businesses through tax incentives and access to capital to create successful outcomes for business creation and ownership; and
  • Develop incentives to encourage majority owners to sell to people of color.

The Quad Caucus members concluded the meeting by discussing each group’s priorities. They also committed to continue building on these policy solutions to improve quality of life for communities of color across the nation.

NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.