SB 911 would provide $50M in public funding for journalism in California. It is heading to the state Senate floor with outside support still tepid.
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A bill to provide $50 million in one-time public funding for journalism in California took one step closer to law on May 19, with a State Senate Appropriations Committee approving it 5-2 along party lines.
It’s just a question of if and when more support for the bill will materialize.
It was the same story when the State Senate’s Governmental Organization Committee voted March 29 to advance the bill. The bill, introduced by Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), who’s running for California State Controller, is similar to legislation passed in New Jersey on 2017 that created the Civic Information Consortium, which now distributes $50,000 grants to news organizations in that state.
“We should look at what we’re basing this off of before we decide to jump on this model,” California News Publishers Association (CNPA) counsel Brittney Barsotti told California Local earlier this spring.
Barsotti said Monday via email that CNPA is choosing to remain neutral on the bill. California Common Cause has yet to take a position on the bill, said their Media & Democracy Program Manager Maya Chupkov via email Monday. Same goes for the First Amendment Coalition, according to its Executive Director David Snyder.
Some concerns related to the bill center on its potential impacts to ethnic media. In a letter submitted May 18 to Sen. Steven Bradford, publishers and other representatives for several Black media organizations throughout California, including Dr. John Warren of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint and Lisa Collins of LA Focus, voiced some of these worries.
“While we applaud the spirit of the author’s legislation, we cannot support it in good conscience,” the letter noted.
The letter submitted by ethnic media representatives Wednesday expressed concerns about applicants only having to be in business one year and not having to be California-based companies. Concerns were also expressed about the proposal that 25 percent of funding be targeted for ethnic media is insufficient. The letter also criticized the creation of a board to administer public funding.
“Although SB 911 legislation is well-intended, the complicated administration and tedious annual renewals of government-funded grants harken back to the days when public housing residents dreaded the demeaning door knocks of social workers dropping by to inspect their homes,” the letter noted.The letter closed by suggesting that the grant process be converted “into a dignified and sustainable business opportunity for the Black Press and ethnic media that adds value, promotes equity and contributes to building generational wealth.”
A spokesman for Sen. Glazer’s office didn’t know when precisely the bill would head to the floor of the State Senate. The senator was not available for comment Thursday afternoon. Glazer tweeted back when his bill passed the previous committee in March, “SB 911. Not a typo. Unbiased journalism is an important part of a functioning Democracy.”
Tepid public support might not hinder SB 911’s chances of being signed into law by Gov. Newsom, with Democrats voting in support of the bill Thursday, Republicans voting against it, and Democrats owning a super-majority in both houses of the legislature.