Sacramento, California – A bill aimed at reclassifying child s*x trafficking as a serious felony and imposing longer prison terms on convicted offenders has successfully cleared a crucial committee after facing initial opposition.
Last Tuesday, several Democrats on the Assembly Public Safety Committee voted against advancing the bill, expressing concerns about potential over-incarceration and the risk of criminalizing trafficking victims who are coerced into participating in these operations.
However, State Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), the bill’s author, appeared on FOX40 to clarify that the legislation is “very, very narrow.” She emphasized that the intention of the bill is not to ensnare trafficking victims forced to act under duress.
After facing backlash and public pressure, the committee reevaluated the bill and ultimately passed it with a unanimous 6-0 vote on Thursday.
Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-San Leandro), who had initially voted against it, changed her vote and admitted her mistake, stating on Twitter, “I made a bad decision.”
On Tuesday, I made a bad decision. Voting against legislation targeting really bad people who traffic children was wrong.
I regret doing that and I am going to help get this important legislation passed into law.
— Assemblymember Liz Ortega (@AsmLizOrtega) July 13, 2023
Under the current state law in California, human trafficking of a minor for commercial s*x can result in a maximum prison term of 12 years. However, the proposed legislation seeks to increase penalties and impose sentences of 15 years to life in cases involving force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or another person.
The bill’s reclassification of child s*x trafficking would also make California’s three-strikes law applicable to this offense, limiting repeat offenders’ ability to secure an early release from prison.
The legislation now moves to the Assembly for further consideration. Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) has expressed strong interest in the bill, and Governor Gavin Newsom has shown his support, even intervening to revive the legislation after the initial committee vote.
California remains a significant hub for human trafficking in the United States, with the state attorney general’s office reporting the highest number of human trafficking cases to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
In response to the specific issue of human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls in the state, California is serving as the pilot location for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative.
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