Child sex trafficking bill survives key test

By Valerie Schmalz

Legislation that would make it a felony to purchase a child for sex survived a key test in Sacramento on Thursday. SB 1414 passed the state Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously and was sent to the full California Senate for a vote.

 Last year Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law SB 14, making child sex trafficking a felony rather than a misdemeanor for those selling children. This new bill, SB 1414, will expand the punishment from misdemeanor to felony for the buyers too–so that anyone who is convicted of soliciting or purchasing a child for sex is guilty of a felony.

“We are hopeful to see that SB 1414 passed out of Appropriations to the Senate floor,” said Molly C. Sheahan, associate director for Healthy Families for the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the California bishops. The bill was amended in Appropriations, and the amendments are unknown right now, Sheahan said. “Purchasing a child for sex does untold harm to the victims and the buyer should be held accountable.”

Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, speaking on SB 1414.

SB 1414 is a bipartisan bill, jointly authored by Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Merced, and Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park.

In addition, two of the five bills the California Catholic Conference particularly supported did not survive the traditional May 16 culling process at the appropriations committees of the Assembly and Senate, known as Suspense Day among political observers.

The California Women’s Care Act, AB 2160, that would have allowed incarcerated mothers more time with their babies after they are born was shelved.

“I’m especially saddened that AB 2160 did not progress, as that would have helped ensure mothers and babies stay together. Current practice separates incarcerated mothers from their babies within 24-48 hours after birth which is traumatic for both, and we can and should do better as a state,” said Sheahan. AB 2160 was deemed too costly during the current budget troubles, Sheahan said.

Legislation expanding CalFresh for seniors by auto enrolling them was also shelved for cost, Sheahan said.

Molly Sheahan, 2nd from left, Assembly Member Tina McKinnor, 3rd from left, sponsor of AB 2160, with supporters.

The state is facing a budget deficit of between $45 billion and $68 billion according to current estimates.

SB 1414 originally expanded the age covered to 14-17, but the Senate Public Safety Committee amended the bill to narrow the age covered to those 15 and younger.

Two other pieces of legislation backed by the California Catholic Conference are making their way through the legislature.

SB 1001 which would make people with intellectual disabilities ineligible for the death penalty is waiting to be voted on the Senate floor next week.

AB 369 allowing high schools to partner with community colleges for dual enrollment of high schoolers is in the Senate awaiting a policy hearing by the Education committee, Sheahan said.

The State Legislature has a series of deadlines that bills must pass. The next is Friday, May 24, when legislation must be approved by the full originating body, either the Assembly or the Senate. Therefore, both SB 1414 and SB 1001 must be passed by the Senate by then, and would then go to the Assembly for action.

For more on the California Catholic Conference’s positions on legislation, go here.

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