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Bill to Protect Children from Abuse Hijacked by Senate Public Safety Committee

A proposed bill to increase penalties on those who buy minors for sex was watered down this week by the Senate Public Safety Committee without the consent of the bill’s author. But that might change now that California Governor Gavin Newsom is publicly supporting the bill. 

In its initial form, SB 1414, sponsored by Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), would have made the act of soliciting, agreeing to engage in, or engaging in any form of commercial sex with a child a felony offense, with sex offender registry required for repeat offenses. Currently, this crime is only a misdemeanor. This bipartisan measure has the support of Senator Anna Caballero (D-Merced) as well as Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). Both signing on as joint authors.

However, during the Senate Public Safety Committee’s meeting last week, Democrat members proposed hostile amendments to SB 1414 and voted the modified bill out of committee without the approval or consent of Sen. Grove. If passed through the full Senate and House, and signed into law by Governor Newsom, the bill would now make the solicitation or purchase of children for sex punishable by a wobbler (“a special class of crimes involving conduct that varies widely in its level of seriousness,” according to Cornell Law) which can still be charged as a misdemeanor, resulting in a sentence as minimal as 2 days in jail or up to a $10,000 fine. 

Sen. Grove said she was “blindsided” by the changes to her bill, and a simple fine is insufficient punishment for the crime of buying children for sex.

Under the amended bill, buying a minor for sex only qualifies as a felony if the child who was solicited/purchased is 15 years old or younger. Even then, the predator would not qualify for prison time. If the individual has a previous conviction for soliciting/purchasing a child 16 or younger and is convicted a second time of buying a child who is under 16 years old and the victim and buyer are more than 10 years apart, then the predator would be required to register as a tier one sex offender (10 years).

“It is unconscionable that California law could now require someone convicted of buying a child for sex only spend two nights in jail as a punishment for that heinous crime – the consequences of which will be felt for a lifetime by that innocent child,” said Greg Burt, Vice President of the California Family Council. “We need to treat these crimes with the gravity that they deserve. Senator Grove’s bill attempted to do so, but it was hijacked. We hope the Governor’s public support for the bill and his acknowledgment that there is “work to do” on some of the bill amendments means the watered-down changes will be reversed.” 

Governor Gavin Newsom signals support for SB 1414.

Governor Gavin Newsom indicated his backing for SB 1414 on Thursday, praising Grove for her efforts. However, he expressed reservations regarding sudden amendments introduced to the bill by the Senate Public Safety Committee in the week.

“I look forward to getting this bill on my desk in a way that I’ll sign it, but we have some work to do,” Newsom said in a virtual news conference Thursday in response to KCRA 3’s question on the proposal.

Watch above the press conference in support of SB 1414 before the Senate Public Safety Committee hearing. 


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