H.R. 40, bill to study reparations, to get committee vote next week

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee hopes H.R. 40 can get a vote on the House floor this summer

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The campaign for reparations for Black Americans is gaining momentum as a congressional committee prepares to consider sending a proposal on the topic to the House floor for a vote.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up and on Wednesday vote on the bill, House Resolution 40. The measure would launch a commission to study the impact of slavery on the country and Black Americans, examining the question of reparations for descendants of people enslaved in America.

The late John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who was a representative from Michigan for more than five decades, introduced H.R. 40 in each legislative session from 1989 until his death in 2017. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee since picked up the mantle as the lead sponsor and is hopeful to advance the bill out of committee.

“This is what we call the next step,” Jackson Lee told CBS News. “America has never acknowledged the original sin, and that if you look at African-Americans today, the disparities that were entrenched in slavery still exist.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee thegrio.com
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

H.R. 40, named for the broken government promise to bequeath emancipated people 40 acres of land and a mule near the end of the Civil War, seeks to discover a path for reparations to make amends for lingering damage from American slavery and other methods to help mend the trauma, according to Human Rights Watch.

READ MORE: Illinois city 1st in US to offer Black residents reparations

Jackson Lee said in the CBS News interview “the timing is great” to reintroduce H.R. 40 to Congress, with hopes that a reparations bill can be voted on as early as the summer.

“We are now, unfortunately, seemingly going back — massive voter oppression and suppression with legislation across America, the tragedies against black men as it relates to the encounters in law enforcement certainly needs to be repaired and the disparities in wealth is very stark, even today,” she said. “The time for H.R. 40 is now.”

A study of reparations has support from President Joe Biden, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in February.

Activist Groups Protest Against Senate Majority Leader McConnell On National Reparations Day
Activists stage a protest to mark the National Reparations Day outside the residence of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) July 1, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Biden “certainly would support a study of reparations,” she said in response to a question about H.R. 40. “We understand that we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism. So he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime.”

READ MORE: Biden’s top aide says White House will ‘start acting now’ on reparations for African Americans

Vice President Kamala Harris has also issued her support of reparations.

In a 2019 interview with NPR, Harris, then a senator running for president, talked about how deep-rooted effects of slavery have gone largely unchecked in society and how reparations could be used as a form of mental health treatment for Black Americans.

“Unless there’s intervention done, [PTSD of slavery] will appear to be, perhaps, generational. But it’s generational only because the environment has not experienced a significant enough change to reverse the symptoms,” Harris said. “You need to put resources and direct resources — extra resources — into those communities that have experienced that trauma.”

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