Setting the top priorities for the state has been a dynamic process for Attorney General Rob Bonta: “Every leader takes their role in a moment in time defined by challenges, threats, and attacks.” At a recent event in Sacramento, Bonta spoke with PPIC president and CEO Tani Cantil-Sakauye, about the unexpected issues the Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken on during Bonta’s first two years.
Bonta had never anticipated contending with the issue of reproductive rights, but after the US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs ended Roe v. Wade, “California needed to be not just a place for defending and protecting reproductive freedom but for expanding it.” Expansion translated into a constitutional amendment defending current protections in state court and supporting a set of laws that provide additional bulwarks.
The DOJ was also an unusual place to push progress on California’s housing crisis. Two years ago, Bonta developed the Housing Justice team to enforce laws for streamlining and expediting housing production. Through enforcement, Bonta said, cities are held accountable for building the housing units they are required to provide by law.
As the first Filipino attorney general, Bonta views his role through the lens of social justice. “It’s important that you see the communities that have been overlooked and undervalued, and you fight for them.” Confronting injustice is a family legacy for Bonta, whose parents fought for fair and safe working conditions for farmworkers and whose father marched in Selma for civil rights.
Weeks into his term, Bonta launched the Racial Justice Bureau—setting the groundwork to confront hate crime across California. The bureau has since held ten round tables with city mayors and community activists and worked with district attorneys to train hate crime units.
Efforts to address threats to communities and protect public safety involve strategies and laws to reduce violent crime and related gun violence. Through the Gun Violence Prevention Office, Bonta is bringing programs that strengthen gun safety laws into a central location within the DOJ in order to better expand them throughout California.
“The Gun Violence Prevention Office is the first in the nation,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “You’re working with local entities to find programs that work in communities, and partnering with new groups […] educating, replicating that model, and scaling it for use in other places.”
Bonta cited San Diego’s efforts to put staff and resources behind red flag laws, or gun violence restraining orders, as one effective model. “Over a third of [these] restraining orders in California came from San Diego—not because there was such a greater need there, but because they were utilizing the tool.” The Department of Justice is training other jurisdictions to set up similar teams.
“Everything we do to reduce and prevent gun violence helps reduce crime; so does work on the back end [through] rehabilitation and successful reentry,” Bonta said, stressing that rehabilitation needs more emphasis and investment. Programs such as the Amity Foundation in Los Angeles provide strategies for reentry that include anger management, job training, and housing. “They provide a pathway where those who have served time can serve the end of a sentence in a place that builds opportunities for success.”
PPIC’s Speaker Series on California’s Future invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.
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