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STATEMENT BY ASSEMBLYMAN AUGUSTUS F. HAWKINS on LEGISLATIVE FIGHT AGAINST DISCRIMINATION
FOR RELEASE APRIL 12, 1951
A full anti-discrimination program has been introduced into this session of the California Legislature now meeting in Sacramento. Included in this program are Bills to investigate discrimination (A.B. 1902), and to eliminate discrimination in employment (A. B. 2251), automobile insurance (A.B. 25), and private schools (A.B. 1756).
Need for the passage of such legislation is to most of us clear and urgent. However, forces opposing such measures contend that discrimination is occasional and exceptional, and that legislation is not the solution. This contention is often supported by illogically citing "unlimited" opportunities afforded outstanding Negroes such as Dr. Ralph Bunche and Judge William Hastie.
While accepting the general conclusion that we have made substantial progress, I have insisted that there is much room for improvement, and that among the weapons at our disposal for realizing the potentials in our Democracy, legislation is a potent and vital factor. And by "legislation" I mean not only the passage of laws but all of the legislative processes; education surrounding the introduction of bills, hearings by committees on proposals, the accumulation of roll calls on vital issues by which we can judge candidates for public office, conferences in which compromises are often worked out without enacting laws, etc.
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A good example of what I mean is the fight to obtain a law to prohibit racial discrimination in the writing of automobile insurance. For more than six years we have sought the passage of a Bill to accomplish this. The insurance companies, fearful that public opinion might swing against them and result in the establishment of some type of a state system of insurance (similar to the State Workmen's Compensation Fund), sought to meet the problem by creating a special insurance pool called the Assigned Risk Plan. This is nothing more than a "company" organized by a group of companies for the purpose of spreading evenly among these companies the so-called risky business, meaning persons who are convicted of drunk driving, careless drivers, and minority persons.
Many Negroes have depended on the Assigned Risk plan to become insured. For this type of insurance they have had to pay a surcharge, that is, for no other reason than that of race, they have had to pay high rates, the same as those demanded from law violators and dangerous drivers.
Since the introduction of legislation and public exposure of this rotten situation together with the threat that if something is not done, the State may intervene, what has been the trend? Many more companies are today insuring minorities. The percentage of minority risks that have to be placed in the Assigned Plan with its added charges, has constantly decreased. Between 1948 and June, 1950 the percentage declined from 17% to less than 9%.
And following the 1949 Session when a Bill to outlaw such discrimination was defeated by only one vote in the Senate - and just four days before a new bill (A. B. 25) was introduced at this Session - the Insurance Commissioner issued ruling No. 61 to make the same rules and rates apply to the business going through the Assigned Risk Pool as those which apply on the open market. This ruling will materially aid minorities in obtaining insurance at same rates and on same conditions as all other groups.
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In the field of employment, the fight for jobs, for up-grading and for training in a similar manner is spearheaded by the campaign to pass a Fair Employment Practices Act in California. I am confident we will eventually pass such an Act in this State but many benefits are even now being derived just from the drive toward this goal.
Since we started this fight in 1945, many unions have seen fit to have discriminatory practices removed in compliance with the sound public policy expressed in the FEPC proposal. Numerous companies have instituted counter campaigns by removing what they felt might be damaging evidence of discrimination; even the Legislature felt inclined to allow several laws to be passed as "atonement" for the defeat of strong FEPC bills.
Yet the battle is far from being won. On our side we need constantly to document new and additional facts to back up our legislative drives. We need to disclose any and all violations of our civil rights or rights to work and live. We need all the information obtainable on cases of discrimination, together with names, dates and places, wherever possible. Such material helps me to better present remedial legislation or to obtain a correction of the problem by other means.
Again, I appeal for information of the character that I have indicated. I am sure that you will cooperate with me in helping to build a California with equal opportunities for all.