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Hernandez.JPGDemocrats in the California Senate used their two-thirds supermajority Thursday to pass a measure that would ask voters if they want to repeal the state's ban on race- and gender-based preferences in government hiring and contracting and university admissions.

With the bare minimum number of votes needed - 27 - the upper house passed and sent to the Assembly Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which would ask voters if they want to repeal provisions that became law 18 years ago with the passage of Proposition 209.

The measure by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, prompted lively debate between Democrats and Republicans on the Senate floor. Democrats argued that California's preferences ban has hampered opportunities for Latino and African Americans in the state to get into college and ultimately achieve economic mobility. Republicans argued that the way to make college attainable for more students of color is to improve the K-12 schools in their communities.

"Why aren't we challenging the education system in California, which in many cases is doing a terrible job," said Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, adding that charter schools and vouchers would allow parents more choices.

Sen. Kevin de León, the Los Angeles Democrat who is in line to become the next President Pro Tem of the Senate, countered that California's earlier use of preferences advanced his opportunities in life.

"If it weren't for affirmative action, I,Kevin de León, wouldn't be here today," he said.

PHOTO: Senator Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.


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