Public Pressure Forces California Committee to Revive Child Sex Trafficking Bill

After a child sex trafficking bill was killed by the Assembly Public Safety Committee July 11, pressure from the public, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and the governor led to an abrupt about-face July 13, with the committee passing the measure in a tense, one-minute meeting.

Following a contentious debate on the floor about how to proceed, a change to the rules was made that allowed the committee to meet and reconsider Senate Bill 14—authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield)—which would strengthen sentencing guidelines for those convicted of repeatedly sexually trafficking children.

Members of both parties, including the governor, welcomed the committee’s change of course.

“Human trafficking is a sick crime. We must do more to protect vulnerable people, especially kids,” a spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office told The Epoch Times in a statement July 13. “It’s great to see SB 14 making progress, and we look forward to working with the Legislature on this.”

Just a day ago, comments by Mr. Newsom suggested he was involved in discussions behind the scenes and potentially integral in the fast pace of the reversal.

“I talked to Senator Grove about it … which is indicative of my desire to see what we can do,” Mr. Newsom told reporters after the bill initially failed. “I take it very seriously, and we’ll be following up and will have something to say about it soon.”

Calling the committee’s decision to pass her bill a “major victory for child sex trafficking victims,” Ms. Grove expressed her desire to see the bipartisan legislation move forward quickly.

“Protecting victims of child sex trafficking should not be a partisan issue,” she said in a press release July 13. “Today is a victory for every survivor, but the battle is not over.”

Before becoming embroiled in a partisan struggle in the safety committee, the bill cleared multiple other committees and the Senate floor with unanimous bipartisan support. Lawmakers reacted forcefully when the bill was originally killed by the Democratic members of the committee—Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), Isaac Bryan (D-Culver City), Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Liz Ortega (D-Hayward), Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Los Angeles).

“As a proud coauthor of SB 14, I stand with children. It is unacceptable that California is not willing to enforce consequences for people who violate the law and human rights,” Assemblywoman Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach) said in a July 13 press release. “It is our job as lawmakers to ensure the most vulnerable members of our community are protected against predators and criminals.”

She expressed relief at the eventual outcome.

“This week the Assembly Democrats entangled themselves in a battle over whether the act of trafficking children should be considered a serious felony,” Ms. Dixon said. “I am relieved they reversed course and did the right thing for our State.”

A committee member that supported the bill in its initial hearing said he was grateful to see the legislation clear the hurdle but suggested it should have never been held up.

“I am very pleased this bill has been rescued and moved forward,” Assemblyman Juan Alanis (R-Modesto)—Public Safety Committee vice-chair—told The Epoch Times by email. “It took two extra days for the right thing to get done, but it got done.”

From the moment the decision to kill the bill was made Tuesday, public outrage has been palpable, as members of the audience immediately voiced their displeasure with cries of “cowards” and “horrible,” and constituents from across the state expressed their disbelief by calling their representatives and posting their thoughts on social media.

Lawmakers seeking to see the bill passed told The Epoch Times that support from the public was paramount in forcing the public safety committee to reconsider.

“The understandable public backlash at the majority for blocking this bill, a bill which passed not just with bipartisan support, but unanimously in the Senate, helped to rescue this legislation and have it moved forward today,” Mr. Alanis said.

Numerous phone calls and messages poured in to elected officials’ offices in response to the bill’s failure, with supporters of the measure saying the issue is more important than politics, and intense public scrutiny led to the quick response, according to lawmakers.

“It’s completely outrageous that a bill with such broad support would once again be stopped by this radical Public Safety Committee,” Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) told The Epoch Times. “The public backlash was heard loud and clear.”

How the rules were changed on the Assembly floor proved to be a dramatic exercise, as Republicans intended to make a motion to withdraw the bill from the safety committee and bring it directly to the floor for a roll call vote. But Democrats superseded their plan by introducing a motion, which ultimately passed, to allow the safety committee to meet at the adjournment of today’s floor session.

The quickly-convened Assembly Public Safety Committee meeting on Thursday lasted one minute and 18 seconds, with Mr. Jones-Sawyer—the committee chair—overseeing the short proceedings with no discussion or debate allowed.

Motions were subsequently called, and the votes were recorded, with the chair screaming “aye” into the microphone—a distinct change from his comment two days prior that he “was a no vote, now I’m not voting.”

Three other committee members also changed their minds, moving from not voting to ayes—Ms. Ortega, Mr. Santiago, and Mr. Zbur—thus allowing the bill to pass.

Audience members in attendance erupted in boisterous applause when the motion passed.

Two Assemblymembers, Ms. Bonta and Mr. Bryan, chose not to vote, and both walked out before the brief meeting concluded.

Following the approval by the safety committee, the proposal will next be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee once legislative meetings resume in August after the summer recess.

One member of the committee has already declared her intention to approve the bill.

“I will gladly vote in support,” Ms. Dixon—representing Newport Beach—said.

Fellow lawmakers are anxious to see the bill proceed and stress the urgency of the matter.

“We do have a crisis when it comes to human trafficking in California, as we have some of the highest rates,” Mr. Gallagher—the assemblyman from Yuba City—told The Epoch Times. “Our children are in jeopardy, they’re being victimized, and there needs to be serious penalties, post haste.”

From The Epoch Times

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