KEY POINTS

  • SB 357 would enable individuals convicted or serving sentences to ask a court to seal or dismiss their records 
  • Under the current law, officers can arrest an individual on the basis of whether they are talking to a pedestrian or how revealing their clothes are
  • Critics believe the SB 357 would hamper the prosecution of human traffickers and provide immunity to sex buyers

California senators have voted to repeal loitering laws that targeted sex workers soliciting prostitution. Senate Bill 357 (SB 357) would prohibit police officers from using loitering as evidence of sex work, and could possibly help trafficking victims.

Under the current law, police use things such as whether a person is talking to other pedestrians, wearing revealing clothes or moving in certain ways as evidence of intends to solicit. 

While speaking in support of the bill, Democrats said that law enforcement officers often profile people of color and transgendered Californians and charge them with a misdemeanor. 

“Arresting people because they ‘look like’ sex workers are discriminatory and wrong, and it endangers sex workers and trans people of color,” Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said in a statement after the bill passed an Assembly vote Friday. 

“Anti-LGTBQ and racist loitering laws need to go. Sex workers, LGBTQ people, and people of color deserve to be safe on our streets," he added.

“SB 357 (Wiener) will repeal current California law that has allowed for targeted, discriminatory policing of communities of color and enable people who have been convicted using this subjective law to clear their names,” said ACLU California Action, who co-sponsored the bill in a statement.

“The overbroad interpretation and enforcement of this law have led to discriminatory stops and disproportionate arrest rates of already targeted communities for loitering with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Bill 357 has not only divided the Democrats from Republicans but has also created a rift between the liberals and the moderate members of the majority party. Republicans and moderate democrats argue that the new bill could hamper law enforcement officer’s efforts to prevent or stop human trafficking

“The unintended consequence is making it more difficult to protect victims of child trafficking, even if it’s just a possibility, that’s not something I can support,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach of the SB 357, reported the Sacramento Bee.

The director of law enforcement training and survivor services for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Stephany Powell, is worried that the new bill would grant legal protection to sex buyers and hamper the prosecution of human traffickers.

The bill will now be sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his consideration in January. If passed, SB 357 would decriminalize law enforcement officers from using loitering as proof of prostitution. Individuals who are currently serving sentences or were previously convicted can also ask a court to dismiss or seal their convictions, reported KOVR. 

gavel-6485824_1920 (1) Gavel | representative image Photo: Pixabay