A controversial California bill repealing loitering related to possible prostitution was signed into law Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
A provision in state law previously allowed police to arrest those who “delay or linger without a lawful purpose” if it appeared they were trying to engage in sex work. Police can no longer use this charge, and those who have been convicted are able to petition the court for resentencing or dismissal, according to the law’s language.
In a letter to the state Senate, Newsom made clear this law does not legalize prostitution and that his administration will monitor the law’s effects.
“While I agree with the author’s intent and I am signing this legislation, we must be cautious about its implementation,” Newsom wrote in the letter. “My Administration will monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences and will act to mitigate any such impacts.”
Supporters of the bill say that the previous law has long discriminated against transgender people and people of color as law enforcement is allowed to use their own discretion in what constitutes loitering.
The new version of the law doesn’t decriminalize soliciting or engaging in prostitution. Instead, it eliminates the loitering offense “that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply ‘appearing’ to be a sex worker,” a statement from bill sponsor state Sen. Scott Wiener read.
“This crime is so subjective and inherently profiling that it allows a police officer to arrest someone purely based on how they are dressed, whether they’re wearing high heels and certain kinds of make-up, how they’re wearing their hair, and the like,” Wiener said in the statement. “This criminal provision is inherently discriminatory and targets people not for any action but simply based on how they look.”
The law is slated to go into effect on January 1, 2023.
Legislation receives mixed reactions from advocates
Meanwhile, some who work to prevent human trafficking say that the law will inevitably increase the demand for prostituted people.
In a June news release encouraging Newsom to veto the bill, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) said the legislation would “cause even more harm to marginalized communities.”
“If signed into law, SB 357 would severely limit law enforcement’s ability to identify victims of human trafficking – even if the victims are minors,” said Stephany Powell, director of law enforcement training and survivor services at NCOSE. “Many officers rely on the loitering laws to initiate trafficking investigations that have led to serious convictions for traffickers and pimps.”
CNN has reached out to NCOSE for comment on the legislation being signed into law.
The Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), another group working against trafficking, affirmed that repealing the previous provision will make sure police go through due process.
Eliminating that section of the law deters police from relying on “bias rather than evidence to criminalize otherwise legal activities like walking, dressing or standing in public, and results in the harassment of LGTBQ+, Black and Brown communities for simply looking like a ‘sex worker’ to law enforcement,” CAST told CNN in a statement.
“Arresting sex workers or persons perceived to be sex workers creates environments where people, including survivors, will be arrested and creates barriers to accessing safe housing, legal employment, and overall quality of life,” the organization said, noting that it ultimately makes it more difficult to get resources to the people who need it.