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California bill to make purchasing child sex a felony amended, weakens certain penalties

California bill to make purchasing child sex a felony amended, weakens certain penalties
California bill to make purchasing child sex a felony amended, weakens certain penalties 03:17

SACRAMENTO — A California bill that pushes for harsher penalties against people who buy sex from children moved forward Tuesday, but not without a fight between members of the public safety committee and the bill's author Senator Shannon Grove.

The original bill, authored by Senator Shannon Grove, would make soliciting a minor for sex, agreeing to engage or engaging in any form of commercial sex with a child a felony offense with a sex offender registry required on repeat offenses.

However, Democrats on the public safety committee amended the bill to exempt 16- and 17-year-olds from the penalties and reduce the punishment from two years in prison to up to a year in county jail.

Grove got emotional while addressing the committee about the changes made to the bill.

"You have a committee forcing amendments in front of survivors that are advocating for this bill," Senator Grove said. "I'm incredibly disappointed that not only did my colleagues reject my proposal to make the buying of children for sex a prison felony, but that I was blindsided when they amended my bill without my consent."

Those against the bill including Senator Scott Wiener said they fear it could target the wrong people by punishing young adults in consensual relationships with minors.

"This bill goes well beyond human trafficking. I think human trafficking, we should throw the book at them. This bill would sweep in a lot of people who are not trafficking. This bill will send people to state prison, on the sex registry, which is basically in many ways the end of their life," Sen. Wiener said.

Shane Harris, President of the People's Association of Justice Advocates, joined alongside Sen. Grove in a press conference before the committee hearing to express support for the bill. As a criminal justice advocate, Harris said this would protect the most vulnerable Californians.

"Part of the reason that I'm supporting the bill and what, and have been supporting it, is because 60% of trafficked victims are actually fostered youth, or have been in foster care," Harris, who is a former foster child himself, said.

He also disagreed with the move to make amendments.

"I think it is just completely delirious that these senators who sit on this committee, some of them decided to go the way of amending the bill without the author's consent," Harris said. "It explains where we are in this state when it comes to how we view our children and our most vulnerable children."

The author, along with advocates, accused the committee of watering down the bill to the point they may not support it moving forward.

"It does not roll the clock back on criminal justice reform. If you think that it does, you cannot tell time and it's time to hold these perpetrators of child sex trafficking accountable in this state," Harris said.

In a statement responding to changes made and the future of the bill Senator Grove's office said:

"Senator Grove is actively discussing the next steps with her joint authors, coalition of survivors and advocates who are deeply invested in the outcome of this bill."

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