A bill to repeal California’s anti-loitering law divided sex workers, advocates. It’s now up to Newsom

A controversial bill to repeal a provision of California law that bans loitering with the intent to sell sex is on its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, nine months after it passed the Legislature, bringing together Democrats, sex workers and survivors human trafficking has deeply divided .

Senate Bill 357 would repeal the misdemeanor statute against loitering in public for the purpose of prostitution. Proponents of the measure argued that law enforcement is using California’s loitering rules to disproportionately target black, brown, and transgender Californians and that the practice creates unsafe conditions for workers. They also allege that loitering arrests make it difficult for people to find housing and jobs because of criminal records, and that police use subjective criteria when pursuing an arrest, such as: B. the type of clothing or makeup a person wears.

Opponents said SB 357 would remove a key tool to stop the sex trade, especially involving children, and hamper efforts to educate victims.

The measure was passed by lawmakers in September, but Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) delayed submitting it to Newsom until Monday. He wanted to buy time to address arguments against the bill and why he thought Newsom should sign it. Wiener also decided to wait until Pride Month, at a time when many in the community — particularly transgender women — are increasingly protesting anti-LGBTQ laws in other states.

Newsom now has 12 days to sign the bill into law or veto it, or let it go into effect without his signature. Newsom’s office declined to comment on its pending decision.

“As we see an increase in violence and harassment against the LGBTQ community this Pride Month, it is more important than ever to repeal a law that targets our community,” Wiener said in a statement. “Pride isn’t just about rainbow flags and parades. It’s about protecting the most marginalized in our community.”

But support for the law has never been unanimous, even among Democrats. Some members of the more moderate wing of the Democratic faction aligned with the Republicans, either voting against the bill or withholding their vote. While the Senate allowed SB 357 by a multiple vote, the bill passed the assembly by just one more vote than was required for approval.

One of the main concerns raised during the legislative debates was whether the measure would prevent law enforcement from protecting victims of sex trafficking.

In a statement to the state Senate, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the section of the California Penal Code that SB 357 would eliminate is being used to “target sex buyers who attempt to exploit them.”

“While the intent of this legislation is to protect law enforcement in a vulnerable community, the unintended consequences will also benefit sex buyers,” the department wrote.

Vanessa Russell, founder of Love Never Fails, a Bay Area organization that works with human trafficking survivors, shares similar concerns. Russell said the law was a first step towards full legalization of prostitution and dismissed the idea that decriminalizing loitering would make conditions safer for women.

“Removing the police will not lessen the damage. It will do more damage because you didn’t do it [held] the buyers and exploiters are responsible, so you will increase demand,” she said.

Russell proposed a legislative plan called Pathways to Safety, which calls for political solutions to prevent sex trafficking and provide recovery resources for victims. She said lawmakers should use these recommendations to help women who want to get out of sex work and victims who have been trafficked into it. That should include mental health and housing services, as well as job training opportunities, she said.

Russell also wants to see the development of a mandatory diversionary program for people who buy sex and pimps to learn “the consequences of their actions.” Participants would have to pay for the program themselves, and the money would go to the victims.

The broadcast of SB 357 marks the near end of a year-long battle over how to tackle a part of California law that has divided attorneys across the spectrum. The nine-month delay reflects how emotionally intense the issue often became in the legislature and gave all sides an opportunity to lobby the governor’s office.

Tony Hoang, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality California, said the legislation repeals a law that was “used to attack, harass and arrest transgender and gender non-conforming people simply for existing in public spaces.” Equality California is a co-sponsor of SB 357 along with the American Civil Liberties Union of California and other civil rights groups.

“We all deserve to live peacefully in public without fear of arrest,” Hoang said. “California has an opportunity to boldly side with the judiciary and improve public safety.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-20/a-bill-to-repeal-californias-anti-loitering-law-is-on-newsoms-desk A bill to repeal California’s anti-loitering law divided sex workers, advocates. It’s now up to Newsom

Alley Einstein

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