California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks onstage during the Clinton Global Initiative September 2023 Meeting at New York Hilton Midtown in New York City on Sept. 18, 2023. (Noam Galai/Getty Images for Clinton Global Initiative)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Sept. 25 that makes child sex trafficking a serious felony—with repeat offenses chargeable under the state’s three strikes law—after the measure nearly failed
in the Assembly Public Safety Committee earlier this year.
“Human trafficking is a sick crime,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement announcing his decision. “With this new law, California is going further to protect kids.”
Senate Bill 14
—authored by Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) and co-authored by 64 bipartisan lawmakers in both houses—strengthens penalties for child sex trafficking offenses committed on or after January 1, 2024.
“I am grateful for the way it happened, because it exposed what happened, but it really shouldn’t have been this hard to get a bill like this out of the building,” Ms. Grove told The Epoch Times on Sept. 26. “This has been a three-year process. We’ve tried to pass this bill for three years.”
Although receiving unanimous support in Assembly and Senate floor votes, the bill’s path to becoming law wasn’t without controversy—which began in earnest as the Assembly Public Safety Committee stalled the measure in July when Democratic members chose not to vote.
“Co-authors represented more than half of the legislative body in the Senate and the Assembly combined, and a few members on the Public Safety Committee killed this bill,” Ms. Grove said. “It didn’t make any sense to the survivors, to the co-authors, or to the Senate who passed it out 40 to zero.”
After public outrage in the form of protests, social media posts, calls to the Legislature, and signed petitions that poured in from across the state, Assemblyman Isaac Bryan (D-Culver City) made a successful motion
on the floor two days later to allow the committee to reconvene—superseding a Republican plan to force a floor vote on the matter.
Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) speaks during a committee hearing in Sacramento on July 11, 2023. (California State Assembly/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
With all but Assemblymembers Mr. Bryan and Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) switching their votes to yes, the bill subsequently passed.
Though no votes were recorded against the bill on the Assembly floor, the debate was lengthy and contentious, with several members raising their microphones to speak.
Faced with criticism that his actions as chair of the public safety committee stalled the bill, Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) suggested the opposite was true.
“By abstaining from voting on SB 14, and granting reconsideration for the bill, it was kept alive,” he said to the Assembly on Sept. 11.
The attention brought to the matter by media coverage helped play a role in reversing the bill’s fate, according to its author.
“I first give credit to God, and then I give credit to the media ... for exposing what happened in public safety,” Ms. Grove said. “The media got it out there, and hundreds of thousands of Californians engaged in this process. So much so that the governor spoke out and Speaker Rivas came out.”
Positive responses came from all walks of life, from voters on both sides of the aisle and independents alike, matching the bipartisan nature of the legislation and resulting in a safer future for children in the state, she said.
“Every day Californians, whether Democrats, Republicans, or no party preference, engaged, and it had every politician engaged in the process,” Ms. Grove said. “Most survivors will feel that this will bring some justice, even if they didn’t get it for themselves, knowing that future children will be protected.”
First partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom speaks at the 4th Annual Women's March LA: Women Rising, at Pershing Square in Los Angeles on Jan. 18, 2020. (Sarah Morris/Getty Images)
Recognizing the efforts undertaken to see the bill through the Legislature, California’s first partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, spoke with gratitude for the lawmakers for working to address child sex trafficking crimes.
“The trafficking of young women and girls is a heinous crime with far too many victims,” Ms. Siebel Newsom said in the same statement. “I’ve seen the pain survivors carry for a lifetime and having recently visited the infamous Figueroa sex trafficking corridor, I’ve witnessed the devastating impacts of these crimes—not just on girls and young women—but on entire communities when trafficking persists. That’s why I am especially grateful to Senator Grove for her assiduousness in combating human trafficking and helping ensure California is a safer place for women and children.”
Identified by the author and supporters as crucial to the bill’s ultimate success, Speaker of the Assembly Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) noted that the measure balances the need to punish human traffickers while protecting victims.
“California’s leaders are united against human trafficking and ensuring that victims are not themselves criminalized,” Mr. Rivas said in the statement. “SB 14 reinforces this commitment. I want to recognize and thank my Assembly colleagues, who supported this bill with an 80–0 vote. And I applaud the author and the Governor for their leadership and commitment on this critical issue.”
With the highest number of child sex trafficking cases and victims in the nation, according to Legislative analyses, California has spent more than $280 million since 2019 to combat the issue and arrest traffickers.
The California Department of Justice established Human Trafficking Task Forces in 2022 to investigate such criminal activity statewide, with numerous arrests made and victims rescued, according to the statement.