For more on reparations, watch “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell” on Sunday, August 16 at 10 p.m. ET.
Among the policy proposals in Congress in the wake of the death of George Floyd is a bill to consider reparations.
Legislation that would establish a commission to study the consequences and impacts of slavery and make recommendations for reparations proposals is likely to get a vote this year from the full Congress, Democratic lawmakers said.
A spokesperson for Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who is the sponsor of the legislation, said she is “confident” the bill will receive a vote in the House during this Congress, though its future is uncertain at the moment.
“In response to our current focus on Black inequality, H.R. 40 allows for the first constructive, scholarly conversation on race that is clearly needed in the U.S. today,” Remmington Belford, a spokesperson for Jackson Lee, told CNN. “It offers full discussion on the analysis of economic, political, psychological, scientific, and sociological effects of slavery in the US.”
The House held a Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the bill, titled “H.R. 40 and the Path to Restorative Justice,” in 2019. The bill’s next stop is a full committee hearing, followed by a vote in the House.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office told CNN that the bill will get a vote if it comes out of committee.
A potential reexamining of the proposal comes as the United States is reeling from the recent deaths of several black Americans at the hands of the police, including Floyd, who died in Minneapolis last month after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Widespread protests across the country have called for codified change in how the law treats the black community.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting House member, said in an interview with CNN that recent events “virtually mandate” the passage of the legislation.
“The vote has not been set this year … but I would be very surprised if we didn’t have a vote this year,” Norton said, adding that very few votes have been scheduled given the chaos brought by the pandemic.
“Given this huge crisis in our country, with the hearing having already taken place, I would expect a vote this year even though a vote on almost nothing has been set at this moment,” Norton, a civil rights lawyer, said.
Jackson Lee’s office said it has the support of 128 members of the House – more than half of the Democratic caucus.
“The present racial tensions and attention given to black inequality has directly contributed to the supportive stance in pressing forward many members have taken. We still have much work to do, but we are closer than ever before,” Belford said.
Norton says if it were not for the virus, she thinks the House would have passed the bill by now.
“I would venture to say that I would expect some bipartisan support for this bill, this is not a controversial bill. It’s a bill to study, and it doesn’t say do something specific, it would be hard to be against it,” Norton said.
The bill would create a commission of 13 members who would compile a report of findings and recommendations on the issue and send it to Congress. Former Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who served until 2017, had previously introduced legislation on reparations repeatedly over the span of multiple sessions of Congress.
When she first introduced the legislation, Jackson Lee said in a press release that “the Commission aims to study the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African-Americans, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation to the desegregation process and the present day.”
The issue of reparations also gained steam through the 2020 Democratic primary, with several candidates endorsing some form of reparations. Several endorsed Jackson Lee’s bill, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has introduced a companion version of the bill in the Senate, but its future remains uncertain under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership.
Booker, the first witness to speak at the House subcommittee hearing, told the committee that America has not yet grappled with racism and white supremacy and that the hearing presents a “historic opportunity to break the silence, to speak to the ugly past and talking constructively about how we will move this nation forward.”
But McConnell said last year he opposed paying reparations, arguing “none of us currently living are responsible” for what he called America’s “original sin.”
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters.
CNN’s Haley Byrd and Clare Foran contributed to this report.