BY ADAM BEAM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom stepped in on Wednesday to help revive a bill in the state Legislature that would increase penalties for child trafficking in the state, siding with a Republican state senator over some members of his own party.
The bill by Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove would make child trafficking a serious felony in California. Anyone convicted of at least three serious felonies in California is punished by a sentence of between 25 years and life in prison, known as the “three strikes law.”
The bill had easily passed the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this year, and Grove expected it to have little opposition in the Assembly. On Tuesday, Democrats on the Assembly Public Safety Committee declined to advance the bill, putting it in danger of not passing this year.
Newsom said Wednesday he was surprised the bill had stalled. He said he called Grove to talk about the bill, telling reporters that the call “is indicative of my desire to see what we can do with it.” Newsom said he “cares deeply” about the issue, noting he signed a state budget last year that included $25 million for services for children who had been victims of sex trafficking.
“I want to understand exactly what happened yesterday (in the committee),” Newsom said. “I take it very seriously.”
It’s unusual for Newsom to publicly get involved in a dispute at the Capitol, especially when it involves the Republican Party. Newsom prefers to stay out of such matters, often declining to answer reporters’ questions about pending legislation.
Newsom’s involvement on this issue highlights the split among Democrats over how best to prevent and punish crime. Some moderate Democrats favor increasing penalties for drug dealers and other criminals, decisions that would ensure they stay in prison longer. Some progressive Democrats oppose those bills, arguing it would lead only add to the mass incarceration of offenders, which they say has done little to deter crime.
“Longer sentences don’t actually stop things from happening,” Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said during Tuesday’s committee hearing. “All they do is increase our investment in systems of harm and subjugation at the expense of the investments that the communities need to not have this be a problem to begin with.”
The bill failed to pass the committee following an emotional public hearing that featured testimony from human trafficking victims. Some people wept after the vote total was announced, while others in the audience shouted “coward.”
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from Los Angeles and chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, told Grove on Tuesday he believes there is a path for the bill to become law. After the hearing, his office released a statement saying the committee members understood Grove’s intent but said the bill “needs considerable work.”
“The Three Strikes model of sentencing is ineffective in preventing crime and protecting the public’s safety,” the statement said. “We will not build on a deeply flawed sentencing system that unfairly punishes disadvantaged communities.”
New Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas said his office is working with Grove to “get it right,” telling a crowd at the Sacramento Press Club on Wednesday his office is “very engaged in this issue since I learned about it last night.”
It’s unclear what changes Democrats are seeking. Grove said she had a “productive meeting” with Jones-Sawyer on Wednesday afternoon, but said they did not reach an agreement. Grove said she is not interested in changing the bill, noting it cleared the state Senate with no opposition and has dozens of co-authors from both parties.
“The bill needs to be brought to the Assembly floor,” she said, “and it needs to be voted on as is.”
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