March 3, 2024

California Democrats resisted a child trafficking bill — until they couldn’t

California lawmakers tried nine times to stiffen penalties for trafficking of a minor. The latest effort appeared to die — until a social media campaign forced Democrats to reconsider

California Democrats resisted a child trafficking bill – until they couldn’t

California Democrats let a bill upping child trafficking penalties die in the Legislature until Gov. Gavin Newsom intervened to save it.

It was a perfunctory committee hearing on a day full of them in the Legislature. The measure in question on Tuesday wasn’t novel, just another in a long list of attempts to reclassify a misdemeanor as a felony. Like most attempts before it, it met a quiet and undignified end.

The bill was new, but what it sought to do was not. Lawmakers from both parties had made numerous previous attempts to reclassify human trafficking of a minor for purposes of a commercial sex act as a “serious felony,” which would be treated as a strike under California’s Three Strikes law. 

In 2007, twice in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2017 and three times in 2021, legislators tried and failed to reclassify child sex trafficking. But then something strange happened after the latest effort went down.

A backlash swiftly took shape on social media. Comments ranged from “What on earth were these Democrats thinking?” to accusations that they were siding with pedophiles — and at least one Democratic member of the Assembly Public Safety Committee that quashed the bill reported receiving death threats.

Soon the bill, which had already passed the Senate unanimously, began collecting new, high-profile allies. Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference expressed dismay at its failure, telling reporters that he’d reach out to the bill’s Republican author, Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield. Newly seated Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, a Salinas Democrat, also said he was “very much engaged” in trying to move the bill forward.

So on Thursday the Assembly Public Safety Committee took it up again. And on the second go-around, it passed.

Human trafficking of a minor for purposes of commercial sex under current law incurs a sentence of up to 12 years in prison. If the crime involved force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person, the sentence is 15 years to life. If the person is convicted of inflicting great bodily harm on the victim while trafficking them, a judge can add up to 10 years to a prison sentence.

If the child trafficking bill passes the full Assembly and Newsom signs it, people convicted of the crime would face longer prison terms and potential life sentences.

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Best Picture 2024: Yes, Sound of Freedom Should Be an Oscar Contender

Best Picture 2024: Yes, Sound of Freedom Should Be an Oscar Contender

If Sound of Freedom had been released by a major studio in the United States, or even an indie studio with “cred” in the industry, we would all be talking about the plight of children i…

If Sound of Freedom had been released by a major studio in the United States, or even an indie studio with “cred” in the industry, we would all be talking about the plight of children in the sex trafficking rings around the world, but particularly in the poorest countries. There would be reports on 60 Minutes. Variety and Deadline would post op-eds with concerned headlines to show they care.

What did we get instead? The first thing was that every headline about the movie or the studio had “faith-based” written into the headline, as if to say — don’t care about this movie because the “God people” made it. The second was your typical mass hysteria reaction to the success of the film, unprecedented in today’s climate for an outsider independent film to do that well.

Then, came the screeching and hysteria — QAnon this, Steve Bannon that, “right-wing” this, Trump that. And indeed, this film had no choice but to appeal to the Right, or as some condescendingly sneer, the “Fox news crowd.” Ugh, what a mess.

No society, much less any empire, can survive as an elite minority ruling over an abandoned majority. That’s what history tells us, and yet we seem hellbent on repeating the pattern. For most of Hollywood’s history, as far as I can tell, the money and power belonged to the Conservatives. That meant the Left, such as it was, wrote the work that challenged the system, pushed back against it, and wrote about the ordinary lives of working class for decades.

But not so in 2023. It has not only reversed itself, but those at the top, with all of the money, all of the power, all of the culture, and who essentially dominate Hollywood not only shut out the majority of Americans, but they actively disdain them. Trump was the catalyst that justified this shameful snobbery — and as long as they see him as the threat, there is no escaping this madness.

That is why stories are so hard to tell now. How to speak truth to power when you ARE the power? How to write about the lives of ordinary Americans if you not only do not know them anymore but actively disdain them?  If the litmus test is that movies have to always be strictly party-line to be invited to the country club, well, then, that self-defeating, especially when a good one like this comes along.

Sound of Freedom is that good movie, with strong performances at its center, that brings lots of people out to the movies who had long since given up on movies, earns an A+ Cinemascore and a 100% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is receiving not just applause throughout the film but, in some theaters in some places, standing ovations, you can’t just ignore that. Or I can’t anyway.

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