What bills does the California Catholic Conference support this year?

Priority: making child sex trafficking a felony

By Valerie Schmalz

The California Catholic Conference is asking Catholics to lobby for a bill that would make child sex trafficking a felony, as well as other bills aimed at nurturing and preserving human dignity before the State Legislature this year.

Helping mothers of infants and pregnant moms facing prison time keep their babies, protecting intellectually disabled adults from the death penalty, making sex trafficking of minors a felony, and increasing access to CalFresh for seniors are key bills supported this year by the California bishops. A fifth bill would make it easier for high school seniors to take community college courses while attending public high school.

California bishops have handpicked five pieces of legislation to support this legislative session. The session began in January and runs through the end of August. Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto legislation.

Penalizing sex traffickers to protect children is a top priority.

“California has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the country, with more than 5,200 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline each year. The majority of commercially sexually exploited children in California are U.S. citizens, girls, Black or children of color,” the California Catholic Conference notes in a backgrounder on the bill.

“Children are being duped, manipulated into this and they are so young they don’t know how to get out,” said Maria Martinez-Mont, coordinator of Respect Life/Gabriel Project ministries for the Archdiocese’s Office of Human Life & Dignity. “These children are the most vulnerable in our society, and adults have a responsibility to safeguard children,” the Catholic Conference notes.

“These children are the most vulnerable in our society, and adults have a responsibility to safeguard children.“

California Catholic Conference

Youth most vulnerable to trafficking have a history of family breakdown, sexual abuse, homelessness, poverty, substance abuse disorders, undocumented status, and involvement with the foster care or juvenile justice systems, the Catholic Conference notes in a background sheet.

During May Advocacy Month, the Office of Human Life & Dignity staff is visiting state Senate and Assembly district offices in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to advocate for these bills. We will also be sending out action alerts so that Catholics and others can contact their representatives to urge support at key moments in the legislative process.

The five priority bills that the California Catholic Conference is supporting are:

  • Senate Bill 1414 makes buying a child for sex a felony. Current law treats buying a child aged 14-17 for sex as a misdemeanor punishable by as little as two days in jail and without required registration as a sex offender. The original version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, made purchasing a child of any age for sex a felony. However, the Public Safety Committee amendments leave out 16 and 17-year-olds. The California Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese encourage restoring protections to the bill to protect all minors from commercial exploitation, including felony charges and sex offender registration.
    • Status: Passed Public Safety Committee with amendments weakening the bill and is scheduled for May 13 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Aye vote from San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener, Democrat, for the amended bill.
  • Senate Bill 1001 will clarify that a person with an intellectual disability who was not diagnosed as a minor is ineligible for the death penalty. Introduced by state Sen.  Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. For 40 years, the US bishops have called for an end to the death penalty because it is inhumane.
    • On the state Senate floor. Aye vote in committee from Sen. Wiener. Expected to pass and go to the Assembly. No fiscal impact.
  • Assembly Bill 359 would allow high school students to attend community college while enrolled in high school. The legislation has already passed the Assembly with full support of all the Assembly members who represent Marin, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.
    • Referred to the Senate Education Committee.
  • Assembly Bill 2160 would allow judges to consider alternatives to incarceration of a pregnant or postpartum mother so that these mothers can have time to bond with their babies during the first year of life. Approximately 4 percent of incarcerated women are pregnant, yet current practice separates mother and newborns 24-48 hours after birth. Rates of recidivism among mothers who are allowed to keep their infants are much lower, according to the Conference.
    • Passed Assembly Public Safety Committee with an aye vote from San Francisco Assembly Member Phil Ting, Democrat, and sent to Appropriations Committee

The California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the California bishops, will be following the bills. Sign up to receive its action alerts at https://cacatholic.org/alerts/.

This year will be one that is even more challenging for any bill that will cost anything, according to observers of the California Legislature. Even if a bill is passed and signed by the governor, it may not be funded by the governor. In January, Gov. Newsom paused funding of all newly signed legislation due to budget concerns, including what had been hailed as a landmark climate change bill championed by Sen. Wiener.

The current size of California’s shortfall remains uncertain, with the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimating a $73 billion shortfall. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office estimated earlier this year that the budget would be $38 billion in the red. However, the governor’s office’s budget shortfall estimate is likely to be greater when he issues revised numbers in May. The budget bill must be passed by midnight of June 15, according to the California constitution. Legislation has until the end of August to be approved by the California Legislature.

Valerie Schmalz is the director of the Office of Human Life & Dignity of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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