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Progressives in California are facing off against a new bill, SB 1219, that aims to recriminalize street loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Authored by Republican Sen. Kelly Seyarto, the bill seeks to reinstate a provision that was previously removed from California’s penal code. Critics argue that the existing law, SB 357, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2022, has led to an increase in prostitution and sex trafficking on city streets in places like Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

During a public safety hearing, Seyarto explained that SB 1219 was introduced with the goal of providing resources to victims of human trafficking. He emphasized the need to protect these individuals and expressed disappointment that the bill did not move forward in committee. The proposed legislation not only targets loiterers but also aims to penalize motorists who attempt to solicit prostitutes for sex, further cracking down on the issue.

Opponents of SB 1219, including social justice groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that the increase in street prostitution is not solely due to SB 357. They point to factors such as high housing costs and the end of COVID-19 assistance programs pushing people into prostitution. These groups believe that arresting sex workers for loitering would only exacerbate the issue and make individuals more vulnerable to violence and abuse.

Supporters of recriminalizing loitering, such as the California DA’s Association, law enforcement agencies, and anti-trafficking groups, argue that reinstating penalties for loitering is crucial to combat human trafficking. They highlight the influx of victims being brought in by pimps, gangs, and cartels from across the country to engage in commercial sexual activities. The proponents of SB 1219 see the bill as a necessary step to address public safety concerns and protect vulnerable individuals.

The debate over SB 1219 has sparked a larger conversation around the unintended consequences of legislation like SB 357 and the impact on communities where prostitution and sex trafficking are prevalent. While some argue for a stronger social safety net to address the root causes of prostitution, others believe that stricter laws are needed to address the issue. With conflicting viewpoints from various stakeholders, the future of SB 1219 and similar bills remains uncertain as California continues to grapple with the complex challenges posed by street prostitution.

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