CALIFORNIA, USA — A bill that would decriminalize loitering with the intent of prostitution is now sitting on the governor’s desk.
It’s a controversial bill because critics say the bill would make it harder for police to rescue vulnerable people from sex trafficking, and supporters say law enforcement uses loitering laws to criminalize black, brown and LGBTQ communities at disproportionate rates.
This bill narrowly passed both the state Senate and Assembly floors back in September, 9 months ago, but the author of the bill, Senator Scott Wiener, wanted more time to engage with the governor before sending it his way.
Even if it seems like what's happening on the street corner is obvious, the bill would prevent police from arresting a person for standing and waiting around with the end goal of sex work.
"We know that women of color, we know that trans people are much more likely to be stopped and harassed under the current law by law enforcement, because the current law encourages law enforcement to be profiling people based on how they look,” Sam Garrett-Pate, with Equality California, said.
Equality California helped craft the bill. Garrett-Pate said California’s current loitering laws also discourage women from coming forward.
“Criminalizing victims of sex trafficking, of human trafficking, does not work" he said. "It discourages them from coming forward to law enforcement and empowers their traffickers, because the traffickers are able to tell them don't go to the police or you'll get arrested yourself.”
Jonathan Keller is the president of the California Family Council. His organization is fighting the bill.
“It makes it harder to help vulnerable women that are in crisis," Keller said. "It makes it more difficult to prosecute and to hold accountable the men that are abusing victims of human trafficking."
While Garrett-Pate said police profile communities of color, Keller said if this bill passes, it’s those same communities that will be impacted the most.
“This is specifically talking about street walking and loitering for prostitution in public," he said. "This is going to affect poor communities, it's going to affect black and brown communities more, but it's going to actually harm them and make those places much less safe and much more hostile for families and for women and girls."
Garret-Pate said the California Family Council is “an anti-LGBTQ extremist group that fights against common sense progress.”
Keller responded back saying, “California Family Council believes all people are created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect. We are disappointed to see these ad hominem attacks instead of responding to our concerns over a bill that makes it easier for sex traffickers and sex buyers to abuse women, children, and those in the LGBTQ community."
Newsom has 11 more days to sign the bill as of Tuesday. Garrett-Pate said there would be no better month to sign it than Pride month, and he says the governor is a strong ally.