Recently I participated on a panel as part of the Center for California Studies’ annual “Envisioning California” conference with Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Secretary of State Alex Padilla. It was a lively forum, where advocates, educators, state officials, and the public had the opportunity to speak collectively on the question of how California can support a more civically engaged citizenry.

As a legislator and Chair of the Select Committee on Civic Engagement, I believe it my personal responsibility to identify and encourage the next generation of young people who will serve as leaders in their communities. This mission is inspired by my own journey to public service. My transition from social worker to professor, to serving on Stockton’s city council for six years, and then the State Assembly, was made possible by people who believed in and encouraged me to run for office.

This past year, the Select Committee convened two hearings to assess the level of civic participation across California. My colleagues and I sought to look at how our constituencies participate in politics – from contacting public officials, to attending political meetings, to engaging in protest and other forms of political activism. Testimony from these hearings highlighted severe racial disparities in civic participation by Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and Black communities – and also emphasized the need to better engage students.

To that end, I will be introducing legislation in 2017 that creates a “State Seal of Civic Engagement,” modeled after the State Seal of Biliteracy enacted by AB 618 (Brownley, 2012). This bill will offer our students additional incentives to become civically engaged over the course of their K-12 education. Students will be awarded a seal on their high school diplomas upon demonstration of advanced proficiency in civic engagement.

And California has also come a long way in improving diversity through civic learning initiatives. In July, we made history when the State Board of Education adopted the revised History-Social Science Framework. Enacted by SB 48 (Leno) in 2011, the updated framework gives California’s school teachers more guidance on integrating the historical contributions of LGBTQ Americans and people with disabilities into our schools’ curriculum.

Legislators can also provide opportunities for their constituents to connect with them and participate in government. For three years now, I have run my “Young Legislators” Program, which has brought high school students from my district to the Capitol to learn and observe firsthand, what the policy making process entails.

However, there is still a lot of work left to do. I commend the countless people in California who have worked to empower and support a healthy, active citizenry. We all play crucial roles in ensuring the democratic principles and processes that are the foundation of our systems of government are not taken for granted. Onward and upward for progress!