Last week, a State Assembly committee first rejected then approved, after widespread outrage, a bill to reclassify sex trafficking of a minor from a felony to a serious felony. The bill author, Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakerfield), had the same bill voted down last year by a Senate committee when the law applied to all sex trafficking. But this year after being amended to only apply to trafficked minors, the bill passed unanimously out of the State Senate.
It was assumed the bill would receive the same reception in the Assembly, but it first had to go through the Assembly Public Safety Committee whose Democrat members generally reject any bill that increases jail time for crimes.
Grove’s SB 14 text states “California consistently ranks number one in the nation in the number of human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline” and highlighted that “Human trafficking is among the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprises and is estimated to be a $150,000,000,000 a year global industry.” The proposed legislation sought to subject the human trafficking of a minor to California’s Three Strikes Law, leading to much longer sentences for traffickers convicted more than once.
Human trafficking involves compelling or coercing a victim to provide a service or engage in commercial sex activities against their will. This manipulation can take various forms, whether overt or subtle, psychological or physical, and involves threats, deception, violence, or bondage through debt.
Despite a 40-0 vote in the state senate, none of the six Democrats on the Assembly Public Safety Committee voted for the bill, leaving the only affirmative votes from two Republicans, Assemblymen Juan Alanis and Tom Lackey.
“You’re horrible!” and “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” yelled audience members during the meeting, while victims of human trafficking were moved to tears.
Senator Grove’s witness for SB 14, former Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock, noted that while trafficking laws with stiff jail sentences exist in California, they can’t be used in many cases. In most cases, traffickers receive five to eight years in prison, but that can be cut in half for good behavior. That number can be cut again because of new programs that further reduced prison sentencing.
Democrat Majority Leader and Assembly Public Safety Committee member Isaac Bryan, on the other hand, made some outrageous claims about the justice system, when explaining his rejection of SB 14.
After the committee’s rejection of SB 14, Republican and Democrat political leaders publicly questioned the decision, including Governor Gavin Newsom.
When questioned the next day by reporters about the SB 14 vote, Newsom said he was surprised by the vote knowing the bill was overwhelmingly supported in the Senate. He also said he spoke with Grove and commended her for her efforts. Then the same day California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas told reporters to “ stay tuned” on the child trafficking bill, because he was working with Senator Grove to “get this right.”
Statement from Gov. @GavinNewsom on SB 14 is below. The bill would classify human trafficking of a minor as a serious felony, & categorize it under the 3 strikes law for re-offenders.— Eytan Wallace (@EytanWallace) July 12, 2023
"It's an area I care deeply about...I appreciate @ShannonGroveCA's efforts on this." pic.twitter.com/GOOidCVIsf
Assembly Republicans came out swinging and called for the Assembly to pull SB 14 from the Public Safety Committee on the floor last Thursday. “Human Traffickers are the scum of the earth – predators who commit unspeakable acts against innocent victims. And that is who the Democrats on the Public Safety Committee are looking out for,” said Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher. “If the extremist Democrats who blocked this bill won’t stand up for trafficking victims, we’ll go around them to give the entire Assembly a vote on this issue.”
Last Thursday, the Republicans forced the entire Assembly to vote to remove SB 14 from the Assembly Public Safety Committe, but fail to get enough votes. But after the floor session was over, the Public Safety Committee called for an emergency session. It was a short meeting. Chair Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer opened the meeting stating there would be no discussion on the bill, just a revote. All but two Democrats changed their votes and voted yes. Only two refused, Assemblyman Issac Bryan (D-Culver City) and Mia Bonta (D-Oakland).
Legislators now have a four week break and will be working from their home districts. Once they return August 14, SB 14 will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. If approved the entire Assembly will need to vote on it if the bill is to make it to the Governor’s desk.