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What is California Senate Bill 895?

What is California Senate Bill 895 (CA SB-895)?

California Senate Bill 895 (CA SB-895) is a legislative bill originally introduced by Senator Janet Nguyen (34th Senate District) on January 12, 2018 that would require the state’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) to develop a model curriculum relative to the Vietnamese American refugee experience. On May 25, 2018, the bill was amended to include the Cambodian genocide. On August 21, 2018, the bill was amended again to include Hmong history and cultural studies.

Wait, what happened to Lao/Laotian experiences?
The bill does not include any specific language advocating for the development of a curriculum relevant to Lao/Laotian experiences, including those of Lao, Iu-Mien, Khmu, Tai Dam, Tai Lue, and other ethnic minorities from Laos (besides the Hmong).

If the bill was introduced back in January, how did we just hear about this now?
On Thursday, August 23, 2018, the LA Times released an article about the bill. The article was shared on social media and elicited a wave of anger and discontent in the Lao/Laotian community for the bill’s exclusion of Lao/Laotian experiences. The next day the Laotian American National Alliance (LANA) released an official statement about the bill along with a call to action to demand Senator Janet Nguyen to include Laotian experiences. Maly Siri-Phom, a Lao interpreter from Sacramento, also released a Facebook video in the Lao language that garnered over 46,000 views and 1,200 shares from within the community.

After a weekend of the Lao/Laotian community calling and writing in to voice their concerns about the bill, Senator Janet Nguyen’s office released a statement to the Laotian American community explaining the bill’s development:

“I originally introduced SB 895 to focus only on the Vietnamese-American refugee experience because of my own personal experience and because I represent the largest number of Vietnamese residents outside of Vietnam. Since the introduction of the bill, I have been approached by two colleagues to include the Cambodian genocide and the Hmong community experience of which I have accepted and added to SB 895. I have not declined any requests by any Legislative members or any community to be included in SB 895 since the introduction of the bill this year.”

She also explained in the letter that per State and Assembly Joint Rule 61(b)(17), the deadline to amend any bills, August 24, had already passed for this legislative season.

So what happens next?
On August 28th, a contingent of Laotian American advocates went to Capitol Hill to meet with a member of the API Legislative Caucus to voice their concerns about SB-895 and consult about possible next steps. LANA also initiated a conference call on August 29th to formulate a state-wide strategy for the upcoming legislative session.

As for SB-895, the bill was read for the third time on the Assembly floor on August 29th and passed 80-0. It’s now back in the Senate for a concurrence vote on the amendments adopted by the Assembly on August 24th. If the amendments are accepted, the bill will go to Governor Brown’s office to determine whether it will be enacted into law.

What can I do as a concerned Lao/Laotian American in California?
Contact LANA to join the statewide coalition and get involved in mobilization efforts. Jonathan Vorasane, LANA Chair, will contact you with ways you can help. This is especially important if you are living in an area with a large number of Lao/Laotian constituents (Bay Area, Sacramento, Fresno, San Diego). Your representative’s job is to represent you and your community’s interests! Representatives will be more willing to listen and work with you if you live in their district.

Look out for community town halls, online petitions, and other ways to stay involved and support community efforts.

Also of note:
SB-895 estimates that it would cost $829,000 in one-time General Fund (GF) over three years, beginning in the 2020-21 fiscal year, to develop each curriculum. The total cost would be $2,487,000 to develop the three curriculums. Under the current bill, no money would be allocated specifically to develop a Lao/Laotian curriculum.

The amendment to include Hmong history and cultural studies is related to previous legislation, AB-2002 (Arambula), which would have required the IQC to develop a model curriculum on Hmong history and cultural studies. This bill was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 25, 2018 and was added to SB-895 on August 16, 2018.

Keep posted as updates come in.

Leslie Chanthaphasouk is a contributor based in Orange County, California

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