California Senate rejects involuntary servitude amendment

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The California Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal to ban involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime after Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration warned it could cost taxpayers billions of dollars by forcing the state to pay inmates who work in prison a minimum of $15 per hour. salary.

The California constitution prohibits both slavery and involuntary servitude — forcing someone to provide labor against their will — but there is an exception for the punishment of a felony. Some state lawmakers have proposed an amendment to remove this exception, an amendment that must first be approved by voters.

But the state Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, failed Thursday to put the amendment on the ballot this fall. They might try again next week. But if it’s not passed by June 30, it won’t be on the ballot this year.

California is one of many states that allow involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime. For decades, the state has used this exception to make money from its prison population by hiring out inmates — mostly black men — to private companies for labor.

This “convict lease” system no longer exists. But inmates in California prisons are required to work or participate in education or rehabilitation programs. Inmate jobs — which include things like clerks, painters and carpenters — pay wages ranging from 8 cents an hour to 37 cents an hour.

The Newsom administration has warned that the amendment could require the state to pay inmates the minimum wage, which in California is $15 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees. This could cost taxpayers $1.5 billion a year.

Many Democrats did not vote for the bill because they worried about its impact on the prison system.

“The question this action raises is whether or not Californians should require state prison felons to work,” said Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer. “Banning the work requirement in our prisons would undermine our rehabilitation programs (and) make the prison more difficult to run safely.”

Democratic Senator Sydney Kamlager said it was immoral that the California Constitution allowed involuntary servitude, a form of slavery.

“Slavery is still alive and well and beautifully presented in the form of involuntary servitude,” Kamlager said. “California is a plantation state.”

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