(Bloomberg) -- California lawmakers took the state one step closer to becoming the first in the US to apologize for the harms of slavery, even though the practice was never legal there. 

Members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, speaking at the Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday, highlighted a bill calling for an official apology for human rights violations, discriminatory laws and practices enacted after California became a state in 1850. The harms cited include allowing enslaved people to be brought into California, enforcing the fugitive slave laws of other states and segregation and discrimination against Black people in employment, education and housing.

It’s the first part of a multiyear legislative initiative the lawmakers are planning after a reparations task force last year made more than 100 recommendations. There are no immediate plans for cash reparations.

“African Americans in California have for generations been purposely denied access to programs and services that would have otherwise lifted many in the areas of economics, education, and civic leadership,” said Democratic Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer Sr., the bill’s author and a member of the task force. “The hindrance of growth these laws caused deserves to be recognized, publicly, through a formal apology.”

In its June report to the legislature, the task force documented $800 billion in economic and other harms to Black residents as the result of unlawful property seizures, redlining and other discriminatory practices. The recommendations aim to close the gaps in wealth, education and health affecting Black Californians, who make up less than 6% of the state’s 39 million residents. 

Since then, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania have created task forces modeled on California’s. But even as the concept spreads among US states and cities, implementation remains slow, difficult and piecemeal in the absence of federal legislation. A reparations bill in Congress, which has been introduced 20 times since 1989, calculates the US government’s liability at $14 trillion.

The California task force avoided proposing individual cash compensation, but it did provide a detailed methodology for the legislature to apply in calculating payments for eligible residents at some future date. 

But any new funding will face roadblocks. On Tuesday, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office increased its projection for the state’s budget 2024-25 deficit to $73 billion from $58 billion in January, adding to the pressure on lawmakers to cut spending. 

The first set of reparations bills introduced by the caucus limits fiscal impacts. In addition to a formal apology, the new bills call for greater investments in health, education and business development in formerly redlined communities by reallocating funds already approved by the legislature. 

Other measures call for criminal justice reform, providing restitution to descendants of people whose properties were unlawfully seized and creating a new state agency, the California American Freedman’s Affairs Bureau, to determine eligibility for reparations.  

Lawmakers also hired a public relations firm, paid for by a private foundation, to build public support. A 2023 poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that 60% of California voters agreed that the legacy of slavery affects the position of the state’s Black residents. But only 28% supported providing cash compensation to descendants of enslaved people now living in California.  

An earlier poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 59% of residents surveyed would support an official apology for human rights violations by the state, and Governor Gavin Newsom, who has worked closely with the Legislative Black Caucus, has signaled he would sign such a bill.

“‘Why California?’ Even my colleagues ask me that all the time,” Democratic Assembly Member Lori Wilson, chair of the caucus, said in an interview. “As legislators we have to do a better job of talking about how important it is to repair the breach from your past and then recognizing that these investments will not just benefit Black Californians, they will benefit all Californians.” 

--With assistance from Zach Williams.

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