Racial equity advocates applaud legislation to evaluate racial disparities

Michigan advocates applauded Wednesday’s introduction of House Bill 6340, requiring a non-partisan, systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by proposed legislation to mitigate or eliminate unanticipated or unintended adverse racial disparities.  The bill was introduced by Representative Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township).

Legislation relating to the social determinants of health, including criminal justice, economic stability, education, employment, health care, housing, or transportation, will be evaluated for potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption.  The social determinants of health are conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, play, work and worship.  “They have a major impact on people’s health and well-being,” said Kelly Bidelman, executive director at the Center for Civil Justice, “and this was immediately apparent during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when we witnessed these racial and ethnic disparities.”

 Analogous to fiscal impact statements that are already required by the House and Senate, racial impact assessments assist legislators in determining the potential impact on racial and ethnic minorities, including whether the legislation is likely to have a disproportionate or unique impact on racial and ethnic communities.    The analysis must contain the rationale and statistics used to reach any conclusion made in the analysis.  The legislation can be modified before its adoption to reduce or eliminate the impact.

“Many of the legislature’s actions impact racial equity. However, at times, it can be hard for legislators to understand the complex effects of racism before a bill is voted on,” Brabec said. “My bill would require a specific, impartial racial equity legislative analysis, similar to the fiscal analysis. Money isn’t all that matters when it comes to legislation; it’s also important to avoid contributing to unjust racial systems of oppression.  Those systems of oppression and legislation that unwittingly supports them negatively impacts our residents. This analysis would allow legislators to have a better understanding of that individual and very real impact.  It will allow us to tangibly combat the effects of racism on our residents.”

“Nine states, including Iowa, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Oregon, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, have implemented racial impact statements and legislators in several states have introduced legislation to adopt the process,” said Greg Abler, attorney at the Center for Civil Justice.   “Michigan’s approach is unique in that it covers legislation that affects the social determinants of health.”   

“The League has worked to expand our racial equity work and be more intentional and explicit on challenging the current and historic inequities inherent in our governmental system, and analyzing and understanding the racial impact of certain legislation is an important step forward,” said Monique Stanton, president and CEO for the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Nearly all proposed legislation is increasing or reducing racial disparities, directly or indirectly, and this proposal will have nonpartisan experts analyzing this impact. This will enable lawmakers to make more informed decisions and provide a much-needed increase to racial equity, transparency and awareness to our state government.”

A number of organizations were involved in the initial discussion of the important benefits of requiring a racial impact statement to address racial disparities, including the Michigan League for Public Policy, Michigan United, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), Center for Civil Justice, Michigan Indian Legal Services, Michigan Poverty Law Program, Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, Kalamazoo Public Defender, the Pokagon Band and the Fair Housing Center of Metro Detroit.



) is a Flint-based non-profit law firm that advocates for low-income people in Michigan through impact litigation, policy and legislative advocacy.