With the start of the 117th Congress on Monday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House’s Judiciary, Budget and Homeland Security committees, has reaffirmed her quest for legislation that could eventually provide reparations for slavery victims.
The Texas Democrat reintroduced H.R. 40 — the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act — a bill that would fund a committee to explore whether Black Americans should receive reparations for slavery.
While it does not directly introduce payments, the commission would study racial inequities and policy solutions.
“In short, 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,” Jackson Lee, the ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, said in a statement.
“The commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long-delayed process of atonement for slavery,” she said.
Under H.R. 40, the commission would comprise members appointed by the White House and both Congress chambers.
The bill has had increased support with 147 co-sponsors in the House, all Democrats.
Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and fellow Senate Republicans have indicated strong opposition to taking the measure up in that chamber, the Georgia runoff elections count as a huge step toward getting the bill passed.
Two Senate seats are at stake in Georgia, with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock squaring off against Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively.
“The impact of slavery and its vestiges continues to affect African Americans and indeed all Americans in communities throughout our nation,” Jackson Lee said. “This legislation is intended to examine the institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and further recommend appropriate remedies. Since the initial introduction of this legislation, its proponents have made substantial progress in elevating the discussion of reparations and reparatory justice at the national level and joining the mainstream international debate on the issues.”
Jackson Lee noted that some have “tried to deflect” the importance of these conversations by focusing on individual monetary compensation.
“The real issue is whether and how this nation can come to grips with the legacy of slavery that still infects current society,” she said. “Through legislation, resolutions, news, and litigation, we are moving closer to making more strides in the movement toward reparations.”