(The Center Square) – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a Republican-authored bill into law that makes trafficking minors a serious felony, marking an end to a saga of a bill that drew national attention when a small group of Democrats in the State Assembly attempted to stop the bill in committee.
“I am grateful for the incredible support from the human trafficking survivors who have bravely shared their story with the hope of making this change, the 64 legislative co-authors of SB 14, and the Governor for signing this important bill,” bill author State Senator Shannon Grove, R–Bakersfield, said. “Most of all, I want to thank the thousands of Californians who called or visited legislative offices, signed petitions, and spoke out on social media. We are here today because of the overwhelming public outrage that propelled this bill through the legislature and ultimately helped protect our children from predators.”
SB 14, which goes into effect on January 1, 2024 makes trafficking minors a “serious felony,” which makes the crime eligible under the state’s “three strikes law” increasing criminal penalties for offenders on their third or more round of convictions.
While passed unanimously in the State Senate, the bill was nearly defeated in the State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, where Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan, D–Los Angeles and rest of the committee’s Democratic majority abstained from voting on the bill. Progressive Democrats opposed the bill on grounds that it would increase incarceration, which they say does little to deter crime.
“Longer sentences…increase our investment in systems of harm and subjugation at the expense of the investments that the communities need to not have this problem to begin with,” said Bryan in committee. Bryan was just one of two Democrats to abstain from the bill’s successful July 13 Public Safety Committee vote after abstaining July 12.
In the aftermath of the bill’s failed committee vote, the bill earned national attention, with even the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, taking to X, formerly Twitter, to ask how trafficking minors is “not already a serious felony.” Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D–Salinas, and Governor Gavin Newsom joined in the backlash, coming out in support of the bill, leading to its successful second vote in the Public Safety Committee the next day. The bill passed with zero abstentions or no votes before the Assembly and just one abstention in the Senate for its concurrence vote codifying an amendment that would prevent victims of human trafficking from being convicted of human trafficking that could occur while they are being trafficked.
“Human trafficking is a sick crime. With this new law, California is going further to protect kids,” said Newsom in a statement celebrating the bill’s signing.” I’m grateful for the leadership of Senator Grove, Speaker Rivas, and Pro Tem Atkins in spearheading this bipartisan effort to make our communities and children safer.”