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County Officials Fear Prop. 54 Effects

A report says the measure would affect costs and services, including adoptions and collection of data on hate crimes.

October 03, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County officials said Thursday that the passage of Proposition 54, which would bar state and local governments from collecting or using most kinds of racial and ethnic data, would hamper many critical county functions and cost millions to implement.

Officials giving a report on the proposition prepared by the county's Human Relations Commission said that, if the Oct. 7 ballot measure passes, it will adversely affect county services from adoptions to mental health and the collection of data involving hate crimes.

The state's legislative analyst has said that the measure would not have a significant fiscal effect on state and local governments. But according to the county's report, retraining as many as 35,000 employees and modifying county computer systems and forms could cost between $6 million and $8 million.

The legislative analyst also has said that the measure contains exemptions that would allow for the continued collection of racial data for medical and law enforcement purposes.

But representatives from several county departments said the measure would have far-reaching consequences.

"It would set public health back a couple of hundred years," said Jonathan Fielding, director of the county's Department of Public Health.

Fielding said that substantial gains in life expectancy have been made in the past century, largely because of improvements in targeting services on the basis of the health practices and status of different populations.

Diane Schachterle, coordinator for the Yes on Proposition 54 campaign, said that such efforts would be covered under the proposition's exemptions for medical research and disease tracking.

"Those are all medical subjects, and they are all exempt," Schachterle said.

According to county officials, the proposition's medical exemptions are too narrow and leave many unprotected areas in which information on race or ethnicity is crucial.

Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said that many adoptive families request matches with foster children of like racial or ethnic backgrounds, and that, without the ability to provide such children, the county probably would lose those clients to private adoption agencies.

Michael R. Judge, the county's chief public defender, said that the "overwhelming majority" of his department's clients are members of minority groups and that Proposition 54 would compromise his ability to recruit a "diverse staff of highly qualified law students and lawyers that match up demographically" with those clients.

Schachterle said that public agencies are not supposed to use race as a factor in public employment.

In addition, she suggested that reports such as the one prepared by the county are part of an organized campaign to discredit the initiative.

"We keep hearing the exact same things because the opposition has a campaign that's very carefully laid out," she said.

"They present the same disinformation at each venue," she said.

A Los Angeles Times poll conducted earlier this week found that 54% of likely voters oppose Proposition 54.

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