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House eyes commission to study societal issues impacting blacks

Senate Republicans also eyeing commission as part of their response to Floyd's death

One of the first legislative proposals Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats talked about after George Floyd’s death was a bill from Florida Rep. Frederica S. Wilson to create a commission to study a range of societal issues impacting black men and boys.

But Wilson’s bill, called the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act, was not included in the 134-page policing overhaul legislation that Democrats unveiled Monday. That’s because Democrats are planning to move the measure through the House as a stand-alone bill.

Pelosi announced plans for a vote on the commission bill alongside Wilson during an appearance Wednesday on the “What’s on Your Mind” show on Hot 105, a South Florida radio station owned by Cox Media Group. Wilson represents northwest Miami-Dade and southern Broward counties.   

“We’ll have cultural [initiatives], Congresswoman Wilson’s bill, the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, coming up, as well as a commission on racism and transparency and truth,” Pelosi said.

The California Democrat said “even before the tragic martyrdom of George Floyd happened,” Democrats have been working on policy proposals to address the underlying causes of systemic racism, like disparities in health care, education and access to jobs and business loans.

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Wilson’s bill is expected to get a vote in the coming weeks, but exact timing has yet to be determined, according to leadership aides.

The bill would establish the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys under the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to study systematic conditions impacting black males, including “homicide rates, arrest and incarceration rates, poverty, violence, fatherhood, mentorship, drug abuse, death rates, disparate income and wealth levels, school performance in all grade levels including postsecondary levels and college, and health issues.”

The commission would comprise 19 members to be appointed by congressional and executive branch leadership. It would meet at least quarterly and submit annual reports addressing those issues, as well as recommendations on how “to alleviate and remedy the underlying causes of the conditions,” according to the bill text.

Wilson said in a statement to CQ Roll Call that the goal of the commission is to address the issues that black males face before they come in contact with the police. She quoted Frederick Douglass as saying, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” as she emphasized the importance of addressing disparities so that black boys have “equal opportunities to develop the skills required to become successful men.”

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, sponsor of a Senate companion measure, said the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys will be part of Senate Republicans’ response to Floyd’s death. “It is included, whether we do it as a stand-alone or we do it as part of Tim’s package or both,” he said, referring to policing legislation that South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott is putting together.  

Scott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rubio did not indicate a preference between including the bill in Scott’s package or the Senate moving it separately, but he noted that the House is looking to pass it as a stand-alone measure.

“There’s not strong opposition from anybody on it, so it’s just a question of how do we get it done,” he said.

Wilson and Rubio served together in the Florida Legislature and modeled their commission bill on a measure the Legislature passed in 2006.

Rubio was speaker of the Florida House and Wilson was a state senator when the Legislature passed legislation establishing the Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. The group is still active, according to its website.

“That’s something that’s worked really well in Florida. We created it when I was speaker, and I think it’s a model we could replicate nationally,” Rubio said.

Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California were the only original co-sponsors of Rubio’s bill. After Floyd’s death, 11 Senate Republicans, including Scott, signed on as co-sponsors.

The House version of the bill has 151 co-sponsors, only one of whom is a Republican. Florida GOP Rep. Bill Posey, who served with Wilson as a state senator when the Legislature passed the measure establishing the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, was an original co-sponsor.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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