California Environmental Voters had the pleasure of speaking with Assemblymember Isaac Bryan about his democracy bills and their connection to the history of Juneteenth. Assemblymember Bryan represents the 55th district in California, spanning from Marina del Rey to Central Los Angeles. As Chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, he is a pivotal voice in the continuous fight for freedom. This year, he has introduced a package of voting rights bills. 

“We have introduced an ambitious bill package that centers racial and socioeconomic justice,” says Assemblymember Bryan. "We are increasing access to resources and making sure all Californians can exercise their rights."

California State Senate Media Archive

Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, as it marks the ending of the enslavement of African Americans in the United States in 1865. It commemorates the day on which the last African Americans who were enslaved in Texas were notified by Union troops that the U.S. Civil War had ended two years prior and that they were finally free. This year, on Juneteenth’s 158th anniversary, we want to celebrate the progress toward civil rights that have been made. But we also want to acknowledge how much work needs to be done to ensure people’s right to vote, live, and thrive. 

During our conversation, Assemblymember Bryan highlighted how Juneteenth was a day of freedom from enslavement due to a two-year delay after the Emancipation Proclamation. He describes how today, black and brown folks’ freedom to participate in democracy continues to be delayed.

ACA 4: Restoring voting rights

Currently, there are still deeply systemic barriers preventing Black and brown communities from making their voices heard and using the power of their vote. Assemblymember Bryan has introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 — also known as ACA 4 — which would restore voting rights to Californians while they are serving a prison sentence. Black and brown folks are disproportionately incarcerated at higher rates due to inequitable policing practices and policies. This constitutional amendment would expand voting access to over 90,000 people in California who have had their constitutional right to vote taken away.  

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AB 421: Referendum reform

Assemblymember Bryan has also introduced AB 421, a referendum reform bill. This bill would require 5% of referendum petition signatures to be acquired by unpaid volunteers. It would also require transparency about funders on petition forms and ballots. 

This bill is crucial as corporate polluters and other bad actors are able to get progressive bills that were passed by duly elected legislators onto our election ballot to be overturned. For example, the monumental bill SB 1137 was introduced by Senator Gonzalez. The bill would have ensured a 3,200-foot health buffer zone for oil wellheads in sensitive areas like schools, homes, and hospitals. However, Big Oil was able to bring this bill to a referendum by misinforming paid signature gathers and voters. AB 421 would ensure petition gathers have adequate training and voters have quality information.  

AB 1248: Independent restricting

Assemblymember Bryan has also introduced AB 1248, which would require a county, general law city, charter city, school district, or community college district that contains over 300,000 residents to establish an independent redistricting commission to adopt district boundaries after each census.

This is important to ensure districts being drawn reflect communities and their experiences, not just the political needs of elected officials. That way these communities are able to vote on issues affecting them. For example, for communities who live in environmental sacrifice zones, there are times when their district is drawn so that they don’t have the power to vote on those environmental hazards affecting them. If AB 1248 passes, these communities would no longer lose their voting power as a result of gerrymandering.

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With the bills Assemblymember Bryan hopes to get passed, many who have been historically denied the freedom to use their vote will be able to participate in democracy. Ultimately, that is what makes our democracy thrive.  

AB 421, AB 1248, and ACA4 are all top-priority bills for California Environmental Voters. Learn more about them here. 

AB 421 and AB 1248 have passed their house of origin and are currently referred to policy committees in the Senate. ACA 4 is currently yet to be voted on the floor of the Assembly, and because it’s a constitutional amendment requires a 2/3 majority in both houses to pass.

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