Newsom vetoes health equity data collection bill for Indigenous and Latinx communities


Hannah Saunders


Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 435 on Sunday, which would require California departments to collect and release disaggregated health data for Indigenous and Latinx nations. The bill is now back in the Senate for consideration of the veto.

Seciah Aquino, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), spoke out about the decision in a press release, noting that the veto occurred on the eve of Indigenous Peoples Day.

“On what should be a day of celebration in not just recognition, but real progress for Indigenous peoples, the Governor has denied Indigenous Mesoamericans and Latinxs an opportunity to collect life-saving data that can achieve health equity for our communities.”

— Aquino

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In a veto letter, Newsom acknowledged how more detailed health and demographic information for Latinx and Mesoamerican Indigenous nations is important to inform services and support while identifying disparities. He said his administration is actively monitoring and reviewing the US Office of Management and Budget’s update to federal standards for collection and reporting of information related to ethnicity and race, and looks forward to engaging with stakeholders. 

“California is required to submit data to the federal government using these federal standards, and programs that receive federal funding must also use these standards. As such, implementing a different framework for data collection in California prior to the release of updated federal standards is premature,” Newsom said. 

State of Reform spoke with Robert Nunez, communications manager at LCHC, who said the organization does not expect SB 435 to move further this legislative session, but that they plan to reintroduce a version of this bill in the next legislative cycle.

“Vetoed bills go back to the Senate for consideration of overturn the veto with two-thirds full legislature vote. From my understanding, this is uncommon and has not happened in a very long time,” Nunez said.

California’s Latino and Indigenous Mesoamerican communities make up about 40 percent of the state’s total population. While current law requires certain state agencies, boards, and commissions to use separate collection categories when collecting demographic data regarding ancestry or ethnic origins of Californians, the state does not disaggregate for Indigenous Mesoamericans and Latinx nations subgroups like Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, and others. 

Aquino has previously emphasized the importance of California’s diverse demographic makeup, and that the state must acknowledge how Latinos are not a monolith, but are unique. Advocates stated that the discrimination against the existence of Indigenous communities will continue if the bill were to be vetoed. 

Disaggregated data alters services individuals receive. If it’s assumed that an individual is Latino and doesn’t have an option to state that they are Zapotec, then that individual won’t ever receive services or information in Zapotec. In order to achieve health equity, advocates said the state must acknowledge the differences of experiences based on spoken languages and skin color. 

“California missed its opportunity to lead. Instead of signing SB 435, the Governor’s veto message punts this responsibility to our federal government, who does not have the same unique window into our state’s needs,” Aquino said in a press release. 

LCHC collaborated with the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center earlier this year, which provided insight on data collection for the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In 2016, California passed groundbreaking legislation through the signing of Assembly Bill 176, which requires the California Department of Public Health to collect and disaggregate data for the diverse AAPI community.

As cosponsors of the bill, LCHC said Indigenous Mesoamerican communities will continue to be overlooked in the state’s data and policymaking. LCHC said this bill is crucial for California and its agencies to seek this level of disaggregated data to not only do their jobs, but to also achieve health equity in the state. LCHC will continue to organize to ensure all of California’s diverse communities are recognized, respected, and protected by state policies.