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California voters to weigh proposal to ban forced prison labor in state constitution

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California voters will decide in November whether to remove an exemption for involuntary servitude from the state constitution under a proposal the state Legislature approved Thursday.

In California and many other states, the state constitution bans involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime. The proposed amendment would change the constitution to say that “slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited.” Proponents of the measure want the state to outlaw forced prison labor in which people who are incarcerated are often paid less than $1 an hour to fight fires, clean prison cells and do yardwork at cemeteries.

“Incarcerated people’s relationship to work should not be one of exploitation and little-to-no agency,” said Democratic Assemblymember Lori Wilson, who authored the proposal. “Let us take this step to restore some dignity and humanity and prioritize rehabilitative services for the often-forgotten individuals behind bars.”

The proposed constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, with a few Republicans voting against it. The state Assembly quickly gave the measure final approval in the Legislature, meaning it now heads to voters.

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