Calif. Catholic groups urge Legislature to fix bill, protect all minors from sex trafficking

This is a file photo of the exterior of the California State Capitol in Sacramento. Catholics in California are calling for state lawmakers to protect all minors from sex-traffickers, mandating felony charges and sex offender registration, after the Senate Public Safety Committee watered down a bill to protect only 15-year-olds and younger. (OSV News photo/Max Whittaker, Reuters)

(OSV News) ─ Catholics in California are calling on state lawmakers to include all minors in legislation that would make it a felony to purchase or solicit a child for commercial sex, after the Senate Public Safety Committee limited the bill to include those 15 and under.

Under current California law, purchasing or soliciting a child for sex is a misdemeanor offense carrying a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Senate Bill 1414 would implement harsher penalties for such offenders: making it a felony to solicit or engage in commercial sex with a minor with a maximum penalty of up to four years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

The original bipartisan legislation, spearheaded by state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, would have applied to all minors; however, the Senate Public Safety Committee amended the bill to give courts discretion as to whether such crimes would be misdemeanors or felonies and limited it to crimes concerning the purchase of minors under the age of 16.

Critics of the original legislation argued it was overly broad, a claim Grove disputed. She argued the committee sought to "water this down."

"The crime of purchasing a child, of any age, for sex in the state of California should be a prison felony," Grove wrote in a May 23 post on X, formerly Twitter, after the Senate unanimously approved the amended bill.

Grove called on the Assembly to restore SB 1414's original intent to protect all minors when that chamber takes up the legislation -- a view that Catholic groups are echoing.

"Many people are shocked to hear about SB 1414, assuming that if anything is a felony in California, purchasing a child for sex must certainly be," Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told OSV News. "Yet, this bill is just now fighting its way through the Legislature, thanks to the tireless efforts of Sen. Shannon Grove."

The state's Catholic bishops, Domingo said, "join their voice to those legislators and other state leaders in advocating that all children under the age of 18 deserve our protection."

"No child is able to consent to his or her own violation," she said. "The state of California must protect children from sex trafficking by passing SB 1414 for all children with the highest penalties for offenders."

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles urged its supporters to contact their lawmakers in support of the original version of the legislation.

"We encourage passing this bill and restoring protections for all minors to the bill, including felony charges and sex offender registration," their action alert said, adding, "Young people deserve to be protected from this violence."

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Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon.



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