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California progressives are pushing back against a new bill, SB 1219, that would recriminalize street loitering for the purpose of prostitution. The bill, authored by Republican Sen. Kelly Seyarto, aims to provide resources to victims of human trafficking. Critics argue that the current law, known as SB 357, has led to an increase in brazen prostitution and sex trafficking in cities like Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Seyarto’s bill would not only penalize loiterers but also punish motorists who solicit prostitutes for sex.

SB 357, authored by Democrat Scott Wiener, was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2022 with the intention of preventing police officers from profiling loiterers based on appearance. However, many argue that this law has tied the hands of law enforcement and prevented them from cracking down on prostitution effectively. Locations like L.A.’s Figueroa Street have seen an increase in prostitution activity, with young women wearing revealing clothing and engaging in explicit behavior in broad daylight on street corners.

Supporters of recriminalizing loitering argue that women, in particular, are vulnerable to sex trafficking without reinstating penalties. Opal Singleton, the president of the anti-trafficking group Million Kids, pointed out that human trafficking activities have increased in California, with pimps, gangs, and cartels bringing in girls from across the USA to engage in commercial sexual services. Law enforcement agencies, including the California DA’s Association, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, support SB 1219.

However, social justice groups like the American Civil Liberties Union oppose SB 1219, arguing that the high cost of housing and the reversal of COVID-19 aid have driven people to prostitution. They suggest that addressing the housing crisis and strengthening the social safety net would reduce survival sex work rates. Decrim Sex Work California activist Fatima Malika Shabazz fears that SB 1219 would put individuals at risk and potentially lead to fatal consequences. The California Public Defenders Association and the San Francisco Public Defender’s office also stand against the bill.

In response to the concerns raised about the impact of SB 357 and the potential consequences of SB 1219, two other bills have been introduced in California’s lower legislative chamber to repeal SB 357. This decision comes after law enforcement agencies reported an increase in illegal activity surrounding prostitution rings. Governor Newsom, upon signing SB 357 into law, expressed caution about its implementation and promised to monitor crime and prosecution trends for any unintended consequences. The debate over these bills continues among politicians, law enforcement, advocates, and activists in California.

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