California law enforcement would be prohibited from arresting minors for prostitution and repeat arrests for soliciting or engaging in sex work would no longer carry mandatory minimum punishments under a pair of bills headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Reflecting a shift among many policymakers who now view underage sex workers as victims of trafficking that should be offered assistance rather than prosecuted, Senate Bill 1322 would direct officers who encounter a minor engaged in a commercial sex act to report the situation to county social services as abuse or neglect.
The measure, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, encountered stiff opposition from some law enforcement groups that argued it would make it more difficult to rescue young women from a life on the streets. They said the ability to arrest and detain minors enables officers to break through the “brainwashing” of their pimps.
After falling short on several initial votes, SB 1322 narrowly passed the Assembly last week. But it faced no such trouble Wednesday in the Senate, which advanced the bill to the governor’s desk on a 29-9 vote.
Senate Bill 1129, which would restore sentencing discretion to judges in prostitution offenses, also faced criticism in the Assembly that it offered too much leniency to people who solicit commercial sex. The bill, by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, cleared the Senate 24-14.