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Affirmative action bill SCA 5 'dead for the year'

The SCA 5 legislation was aimed at bringing race-conscious admissions and recruitment to California's public universities, such as UCLA.
The SCA 5 legislation was aimed at bringing race-conscious admissions and recruitment to California's public universities, such as UCLA.
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A legislative plan to ask California voters whether they want affirmative action reinstated at public universities is not moving forward this year.

Assembly Speaker John Pérez on Monday returned Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 - better known as  SCA 5 — to the Senate without the Assembly vote required to get the question placed on the November ballot.

Pérez said he did so at the request of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina.  Hernandez's office has said he's more focused on placing the measure on the 2016 ballot.

RELATED: Affirmative action amendment has some Asian-Americans furious

During a press briefing in Sacramento, Pérez said SCA 5 did not have the two-thirds vote needed in the Assembly to get on the ballot.

Pérez and Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg are instead calling for a task force that will look at ways to "expand access" to a public university system that has undergone major budget cuts. Pérez said the two of them would work over the next two weeks on crafting "language dealing with the specific charge of the task force" and who would be on it.

"It is important we engage in a very broad conversation with all interested stakeholders, with academics and with leaders of our institutions of higher education to understand where we are and where we’d like to get as a state to have the broadest access to our public university system as possible," Pérez told reporters.

Hernandez had said the point of SCA 5 was to admit more students of color from groups underrepresented at University of California and Cal State schools, including African-Americans, American Indians and Latinos.

Supporters of SCA 5 say that campus diversity has declined under Proposition 209, the ballot initiative voters passed in 1996. The measure, which took effect two years later, barred the use of race, ethnicity or gender in college admissions.

But some Asian-American groups are worried that allowing race-conscious recruitment and admissions would cost college placements for Asian-Americans, the most-represented racial minority according to statistics for the UC freshmen class.

Organizations such as the Southern California Council of Chinese Schools and the Joint Chinese University Alumni Association of Southern California have pressured Asian-American Assembly members to oppose SCA 5.

Olivia Liao, who leads the 40,000-member alumni organization,  said she was "happy" to hear SCA 5 was not advancing this year. But she worried about it coming back in 2016 - the soonest SCA 5 could get on a ballot.

"I think we need to continue to monitor this bill and continue to influence our legislators," Liao said. "And we are going to be talking about this to see what we can do to encourage all the Asian voters to make sure they get registered and get them to vote."

The Senate's three Asian-American members had all voted for SCA 5 in late January. Under fire from SCA 5 critics, they've been distancing themselves from the legislation, saying in joint statements that they were not aware of the opposition until after the vote produced backlash.

One of them, Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, put out a statement Monday, praising Pérez's decision to return the bill to the Senate.

"Without action in the Assembly, SCA 5 is dead for the year," he said.

But there is no consensus about affirmative action among Asian-Americans, and some organizations expressed disappointment with the demise of the legislation.

Jonathan Tran, a program manager for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, said that some "groups will try to claim this as a victory."

But, "no one really wins as a byproduct of SCA's failure," Tran said. "We don't take any steps forward in terms of increasing access to higher education."

This story has been updated.