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California Senate Votes Down Amendment to Bill To Make Human Trafficking a Serious, Violent Felony

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An article from the California Globe.

The California Senate rejected new amendments made by Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to Assembly Bill 2167 on Monday, rejecting that human trafficking should be considered a serious and violent felony.

AB 2167, authored by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Senator Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), would require courts to consider alternatives to incarceration, including collaborative justice court programs, diversion, restorative justice, and probation. The bill also notes that criminal cases should use the least restrictive means possible.

According to Assemblyman Kalra, he wrote the bill to “encourage restraint in the overuse of incarceration by requiring courts to first consider other alternative options in sentencing decisions.” In his pitch to the Assembly, Kalra tried to win over many on the fence about the issue by pointing out cost differentials, noting that the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) found that incarceration per inmate every year in California is $106,000, while the price of supervised probation a day is $12. This argument however, failed to win many over.

“So the state saves some money each year by doing that,” victim survivor’s advocate Kenji Taylor, who lost her sister to a murder committed by a criminal out on probation, told the Globe on Monday. “What would they say is the price of a human life? Is saving that money really worth people dying for? They never have an answer for that and always think of the criminal more than the people wronged.”

Despite the controversial nature of the bill, AB 2167 managed to pass the Assembly by a tight 42-23 with 13 abstentions in a vote in May, with Republicans and some Democrats either opposing it or not voting on it. Prior to the Assembly vote, the bill had been heavily amended, including writing out a portion that would have heavily favored the use of probations over all other punishments and courts being given the discretion to determine an appropriate sentence rather than it being a rigid system outlined by the bill.

A proposed AB 2167 amendment

While it moved to the Senate, many Senators, both Republican and Democrat, have continued to oppose AB 2167. However, with opposition possibly not being enough to stop the bill from being passed by the end of the session, many have tried to change it through amendments. This included Senator Grove introducing an amendment that would have human trafficking be put down as a serious and violent crime so that probation and other “restorative justice” measures could not be applied to those crimes.

“In California, human trafficking is defined as a non-serious felony and a non-violent crime,” said the Senator during comments on Monday. “How can raping and selling of a child over and over and over again be considered a non-violent crime? I ask that we amend language into this bill and send a message to all Californians that this heinous act will not be tolerated. I’m asking you to give many victims of human trafficking justice and law enforcement to arrest these perpetrators and put them in prison for a very long time. ”

However, on Monday, Senate Democrats rejected adding in the new amendments, voting 31-8 to table to new amendment and not add it in.

“California must prosecute these horrendous acts as the serious and violent crimes that they are,” Senator Grove said after the vote. “The fact that Democrats refuse to do so should concern all Californians.”

In addition, the vote surprised many justice advocates, who thought that it would have been added to the bill as an amendment.

“Look at who voted yes on that amendment question,” continued Taylor. “31 people just don’t care about victims. They can say otherwise all they want, but that single vote just put a hell of a lot of people in danger. I’m just upset and baffled. Why would they choose to protect criminals more than victims?”

AB 2167 is expected to go to a full Senate vote in the next 9 days.

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