Discussions have started in earnest between Gov. Kathy Hochul's staff and lawmakers who led the effort this session to pass legislation to study reparations for descendants of enslaved New Yorkers and the consequences of the state's lasting impacts on the slave trade.
The discussions are ongoing, sources said Tuesday, as the governor weighs her decision to sign or veto the measure before the end of the year. It's one of more than 400 bills waiting for Hochul's action, or about half of what state lawmakers passed in Albany this year.
A spokesman with Hochul's office said Tuesday the governor is reviewing the bill and would not answer other questions.
It's atypical for Hochul to publicly discuss the specifics of proposed legislation — she brushed off questions after an event in New York City on Tuesday about her plans to sign specific measures passed by the Legislature this year.
"We had almost 900 bills that were passed," she said. "I'm about halfway through."
If signed into law, the legislation would form a commission to study the state's history of slavary and how to repair its lasting impacts on descendants of enslaved New Yorkers to be performed by nine people appointed to the State Community Commission on Reparations Remedies.
Slavery remained legal in New York until 1827, but the state provided insurance for slave owners in other states and supported the national slave industry, keeping it alive for additional generations.
"That had significant implications on life in this states that still permeate today, when we look at the racial wealth gap, education, employment and upward mobility," said Luke Perry, a political science professor at Utica University. "I think that's prompted further analysis of what should be done."
Hochul's office started to request information about the legislation since nearly 70 elected state officials — including 58 state lawmakers — sent her a letter last week pushing her to immediately sign it into law.
Sen. James Sanders, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the bill in the upper house, said Tuesday Hochul could be a leader in discerning what solutions could heal racial issues in New York.
"I think there has to be an education on this whole matter, and we are looking forward to dialoguing with the governor to hear what, if any, are her concerns," Sanders said. "...This is not simply a question of Black people or people of color, this is a question of justice, New York-style and what does it mean to have a state that moves foward together? I believe at the end of the day, the governor will join hands with us, too."
If it becomes law, New York's commission would convene for the first time six months after the bill becomes law, and would publish a report of their findings and recommendations within a year or two, Assembly sponsor Michaelle Solages said.
"It's important this conversation happens — it's important we talk about this issue," said Solages, who chairs the state Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.
Reparations are not just financial payments, but could be presented in various ways like specific policy changes or creating new agencies dedicated to helping Black people and communities of color.
Advocates say it could help bridge racial gaps in wealth, education, health care and more.
"History may be the study of the past, but rarely does it have anything to do with the past," said Clemmie Harris, director of Africana studies and associate professor of history, urban studies and public affairs at Utica University. "It almost always has to do with present and lays the foundation for the future."
Harris cited a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis study on the state of income inequality, which concluded White Americans hold 84% of the total wealth in the U.S. and make up roughly 60% of the population, while Black Americans hold 4% of the nation's wealth and comprise 13% of the population.
"Wealth within itself is not something that is ultimately the result of what you can buy, but it ultimately establishes the very nature of who gets to be included in mainstream American life," Harris said.
New York could become the second major U.S. state to study reparations after California's Reparations Task Force published their final recommendations this past spring, but lawmakers say the distinct states require different soliutions.
"We can't compare a California experience to a New York experience, because we've had different timelines, we've had different relationships with slavery and its legacies," Solages said Tuesday. "And so we cannot compare and contrast are our remedies."
Solages says the study is a critical step to help the descendants of enslaved New Yorkers overcome past injustices, and is a step for the state to atone for its role in the American slave industry.
"This is about making sure our communities are made whole, and so my belief is that the sooner we sign this, the sooner we can start healing our communities and begin that conversation of how we can live united as all New Yorkers," she said.