Being a member of the Communist Party would no longer be a fireable offense for state jobs under a measure narrowly approved by the California Assembly on Monday.
The measure by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) would strike language in California law dating from 1953 that warns of "a clear and present danger, which the Legislature of the State of California finds is great and imminent, that in order to advance the program, policies and objectives of the world communism movement, communist organizations in the State of California and their members will engage in concerted effort to hamper, restrict, interfere with, impede, or nullify the efforts of the State...and their members will infiltrate and seek employment by the State and its public agencies."
In another section of statute, being a member of the Communist Party is sufficient cause for dismissal for public employees. Bonta's bill would eliminate the reference to communism. Under his proposal, it would still be a fireable offense to knowingly advocate the violent overthrow of government.
"It's an old and archaic reference," said Bonta of the specific language about communism. He said his bill was "really just a technical fix to remove that reference to a label that could be misused or abused, and frankly, has been in the past, in some of the darker chapters of our history in this country."
Assemblyman Randy Voepel (R-Santee) urged his colleagues to vote no, arguing that military veterans fought wars against communists, a political ideology he said "is still a threat."
"The whole concept of communism and Communist Party members working for the state of California is against everything we stand for on this floor," Voepel said.
The bill, Assembly Bill 22, squeaked through with a 41-vote majority, but not before some hand-wringing from Democrats. The measure initially came up short when the roll was opened, and many members anticipating tight reelection races held off or voted no. Others came from districts with high immigrant populations that fled communist regimes in their own countries, such as Vietnam.
Bonta said he recognized that history, but added that it was important to harmonize that with the value of due process.
"Part of having a functioning democracy and a fair and equitable society is to make sure you're actually basing your decisions to take someone's job away ... based on their actual conduct, their actual behavior and actual proof and evidence, not just some loose label that could be applied overbroadly in a way that is unfair and unjust," he said.
The bill now moves to the Senate.