Bill to Designate Child Trafficking a ‘Serious Felony’ Stalls in California

Following the vote, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters that he was working to attempt to revive the legislation and see it passed by the state Legislature.

The California Capitol
The California Capitol (photo: Willem van Bergen / (CC BY-SA 2.0))

Democrats in the California State Assembly drew criticism this week for blocking a bill that would have elevated the offense of child trafficking to a “serious felony,” but Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, vowed to get the measure passed. 

Senate Bill 14, introduced by Republican Sen. Shannon Grove, would add “human trafficking of a minor” to the state’s definition of a “serious felony.” California law reserves the designation of “serious felony” for major crimes that may warrant life in prison or the death penalty. 

The bill had already passed the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier in the year. Yet the measure stalled in the California Assembly Public Safety Committee. The two Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the measure while the six-Democrat majority abstained from voting. 

The bill was granted “reconsideration” status, meaning it may come up for a vote again.

KCRA-TV correspondent Ashley Zavala reported on Twitter that at least one spectator shouted, “Horrible!” after the vote, while at least one other attendee was reportedly crying. 

Footage of the committee meeting also showed attendees yelling insults such as “Cowards!” and “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” 

State GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson, meanwhile, said in a statement that the bill’s failure had demonstrated that California is “the premier state for criminals to thrive.”

Democrats “have shown there is no line they won’t cross to side with criminals over victims,” Patterson said. 

None of the committee members immediately responded to queries about the bill’s failure. Assembly and committee Chair Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer said in a statement earlier this week that Democrats on the committee were unwilling to “build on a deeply flawed sentencing system that unfairly punishes disadvantaged communities.”

“Ultimately, members of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee understood the author’s intent but recognized this bill needs considerable work and granted reconsideration,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Following the vote, Gov. Newsom told reporters that he was working to attempt to revive the legislation and see it passed by the state Legislature. 

“I want to understand exactly what happened yesterday [in the committee],” Newsom told the media after the vote. “I take it very seriously.”

Child trafficking has received renewed attention this year in the wake of the surprise hit movie Sound of Freedom, a film about a former government agent who works to save children from sex trafficking in Colombia. 

The film stars Jim Caviezel in the lead role; Caviezel is widely known for playing Jesus Christ in 2004’s Mel Gibson-directed The Passion of the Christ.

Critics have alleged that the film sensationalizes the issue of child trafficking, while advocates say it portrays the global problem realistically and accurately.