California Moves Bill Addressing Worst Child Trafficking In The Nation

California continues to rank as the state with the highest number of human trafficking cases annually in the nation. On September 11, the California State Senate moved forward a bill that had previously failed six times which could change the way offenders are handled by the criminal justice system. After inserting an additional requirement in an Assembly committee, the bill will move back to the Senate for a final vote before advancing to the Governor’s desk. It passed 79-0 in the Assembly on Monday.

The bill aims to increase the penalty for individuals convicted of child sex trafficking crimes by making the violation a serious felony. Current law allows for individuals who are convicted of trafficking crimes to be eligible for early release and does not count as an offense that results in a strike. This allows repeat offenders to continue abusing children without facing serious consequences.

Senate Bill 14 was initially defeated by Democrats in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The committee is made up of six Democrats and two Republicans in the heavily-Democratic State Assembly. In July, the Democrat committee members abstained from voting on the bill rather than lodging a No-vote which would have become part of the public record.

State Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) wrote the bill and has made numerous changes to appease Democrats who have resisted passing legislation that addresses the states worst-in-the-nation number of trafficking cases. Democrats have argued that longer, more severe punishment for repeat offenders does nothing to solve the problems in the community and wastes money that could be used elsewhere.

State Democrats have worked for years to dismantle laws that provide longer sentences for a variety of trafficking crimes. In January, Democrats decriminalized loitering for the purpose of committing prostitution in the name of transgender rights. Democrats believe that transgender females were unfairly punished under the previous law because arrests depended on the police officer’s subjective opinion of whether the individual was engaged in sex work.

After refusing to pass the bill in July, the committee was faced with tremendous backlash from the community and was rebuked by California Gov. Gavin Newsom for failing to move the bill. Days later, Democrats took up the matter again and added language to prevent minors who are forced to assist traffickers from being prosecuted. The committee then passed the bill which went to the full floor of the Assembly on Monday.

California has five cities that rank in the top 20 for child trafficking cases. All five are major population centers, with the state capitol Sacramento ranking the worst in the state and seventh in the nation. San Fransisco, San Jose, San Diego, and Los Angeles also make the list. Houston, Texas is considered to be the worst city in the nation due to its proximity to the southern border and abundant interstate freeways connecting the city to major locations throughout the country.