Lawmakers Incensed by “Watering Down” of Language in Child Sex Solicitation Bill

Lawmakers Incensed by “Watering Down” of Language in Child Sex Solicitation Bill

PHOTO Dr. Stephany Powell, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer and current expert on human trafficking survivors, speaks with the media about a bill that would help lock up individuals who buy sex from trafficked children. On Powell’s right is Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), who co-authored SB 1414 with (not pictured) Sens. Anna Caballero (D-Merced) and Susan Rubio. CBM photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.
WRITTEN BY ANTONIO RAY HARVEY | CALIFORNIA BLACK MEDIA

(CBM) – After an emotional hearing on July 2, the Assembly Public Safety Committee voted to advance Senate Bill (SB) 1414 with an 8-0 vote. The legislation is an anti-sex-trafficking measure designed to increase penalties for those who purchase sex from children,

SB 1414, co- authored by Senators Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), Anna Caballero (D-Merced) and Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), will be reviewed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee after the legislature break ends on Aug. 5. 

The legislation has received bipartisan support. However, “critical amendments” were removed, Grove said. She is not satisfied with the language currently in the bill and is pressing members of the Assembly Public Safety Committee to allow key provisions to be restored.

“I am disappointed that they didn’t accept the amendments for all minors to be protected under felony convictions,” Grove said after the committee’s vote.

 “I am not going to give up fighting for those 16 and 17-year-olds – and all minors,” Grove stated.  “Now, the district attorneys would have to prove two crimes: that they were bought and sold in order to go back to the perpetrator (trafficker) who initiated the whole process.”

SB 1414 made it off the Senate floor with a 36-0 bipartisan vote on May 23. Before the floor vote in the Senate, the Senate Public Safety Committee amended SB 1414, weakening protections for children ages 16 and 17, Grove said.

The committee’s amendments included charging violators who purchase children 15 and under for sex as wobblers (crimes that can be punished as a felony or misdemeanor). According to the current language of the bill, solicitation of a 16 and 17-year-old child is only punishable as a misdemeanor. The second amendment to the bill calls for the felony charge to only carry possible jail time — not time in prison. 

Grove and her supporters’ other concern is that a third amendment to SB 1414 states that only perpetrators with a previous conviction of buying sex from a child 15 or under, on the second offense and with over a 10-year age gap of the victim, must register as a tier one sex offender.

Dr. Stephany Powell, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who has over 30 years of sexual exploitation and trafficking experience gained through law enforcement, testified in front of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

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“First of all, there’s no way in the world that (these amendments) are protecting a 16 or 17-year-old,” said Powell, who now assists victims of human trafficking. “Just by the age alone, they are considered to be a victim of human trafficking. That’s your proof right there.”

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), chair of the Public Safety Committee and a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), told Grove that he supports SB 1414 and commended her efforts to bring “more accountability to the sex trade.”

McCarty said he is willing to make SB 1414 “stronger,” but he is not willing to allow Grove to buck the rules of the Legislature to push her amendments through.

“That’s not on the table. As the rules, you know, we can’t go change that,” McCarty said of Grove’s amendments request.  

On June 2, Anne Irwin, the founder and director of Smart Justice California, emailed California Black Media (CBM) a statement responding to SB 1414. Smart Justice sides with the amendments made by the Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly.

“California Democrats have once again demonstrated their commitment to protecting vulnerable children from abuse and exploitation,” Irwin stated. “With the recently adopted amendments, SB 1414 now represents a smart policy solution that prioritizes the safety and well-being of all minors. By allowing felony prosecutions for solicitation of 16 and 17-year-olds when there is evidence of human trafficking, lawmakers have further improved the bill – which was originally overly broad and would have had harmful unintended consequences.”

In its original form, SB 1414 criminalized soliciting or engaging in any act of commercial sex with a child aged 17 and under a felony. Grove also wanted the removal of the 10-year age gap requirement for the sex offender registry. 

Grove blames the Democrats in the Senate Public Safety Committee for watering down the bill’s language.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee added amendments requiring proof that 16 and 17-year-olds are victims of human trafficking for a buyer to be held accountable and charged with a stronger penalty.

“It shouldn’t be difficult to get a bill out of this building that protects children from those that want to purchase them and buy them for sex,” Grove said. “It should be simple. It’s completely bipartisan. I have co-authors who are Democrats. I have several Democrats and principal co-authors, but there are a few people in the building who make it sound like we are doing the wrong thing.

Victims of human trafficking, Odessa Perkins and Brianna Moseley were two of many sex trafficking survivors who visited the State Capitol last week to show their support for SB 1414. Some of the survivors were in tears sharing their experiences.

Perkins is the founder of emPOWERmentbased in Kern County. The nonprofit services vulnerable youth and human trafficking survivors.

If the Assembly Appropriations Committee votes to advance SB 1414, it will move to the Assembly floor for a vote. In the interim, Grove said she will continue to fight for the amendments she believes will strengthen the bill.

“Don’t be fooled by the Public Safety Chairs’ announcement that they restored a felony for purchasing children in SB 1414,” Grove said. “All children in California, across the nation, girls and boys, deserve to be protected equally.”

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