California state Sen. Shannon Grove, a Republican, blasted her Democratic colleagues for weakening a bill that would make buying a child for sex a felony offense.

The California bill, which Grove introduced in February, would have made soliciting a minor for sex a felony with the potential for up to four years of prison time, a fine of up to $25,000, and required those convicted to register as sex offenders.


Democrats on the state Senate’s Public Safety Committee passed amendments to the bill last Wednesday without Grove’s approval.

The changes would drop prison time upon conviction to a maximum of one year in jail and reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if the child was 16 or 17. 

“When I was standing at that podium I was shocked at what was happening, and I said, ‘Are you forcing these amendments on me?’ And the chair said, ‘Yes.’ And the audience, with all of our survivors in the background, gasped,” Grove told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Some of them cried out. They’re mortified. They are hurt. They feel like they’ve been assaulted all over again by what happened.”

The amendments also would make it so that a person could face charges or pay a $10,000 fine and “buy their way out of a crime” if the victim was under 16 years old, Grove said.

“I’ve thought through this process and I thought through any rational reason that they could have, but I think somebody just needs to ask them why they don’t want to put people in prison for buying children,” Grove said. “My mind cannot wrap around a rational reason not to do that.”

California is the fifth-worst state in the nation for human trafficking, with 3.43 cases per 100,000, according to the World Population Review. Sex trafficking accounted for 89% of all human trafficking cases in California in 2021, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

California lawmakers, however, have pushed legislation that weakens protections for minors who have been sexually abused.

In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat. A member of the Public Safety Committee, Newsom voted in favor of the amendments to Grove’s bill relaxing sex offender registry requirements for offenders not more than 10 years older than victims who are minors.

A similar amendment to Grove’s bill would remove the requirement to register as a sex offender for buying or engaging in sexual behavior with a minor 15 years old and under, if the perpetrator is less than 10 years older than the victim, according to a press release from Grove’s office.

Grove said the change was “bizarre, convoluted, and confusing … but purposeful.”

“I think every Californian—well, just about every Californian—believes that buying sex from a child should be a felony,” Grove said. “And I don’t think that these senators wanted to take that vote or face the public backlash, so they watered it down hoping that I would pull the bill entirely.”

Wiener’s office did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

State Sen. Craig Bradford, a Democrat, also voted in support of the amendments, according to the Legislature’s website. Bradford noted during Wednesday’s hearing that although he was supportive of measures to prevent human trafficking, he “generally” hesitated about “creating new felonies” due to their potential “consequences on communities of color.”

Bradford supported a previous bill proposed by Grove to make the selling of a minor for sex a felony. However, he said at the hearing that he was concerned about the new bill because the offender might not have known the minor’s age at the time of the crime.

Grove said she worked with the Public Safety Committee by proposing an amendment to make the sex offender registry requirement for repeat offenders only, but her fellow senators didn’t accept her revisions.

Bradford’s office referred the Daily Caller News Foundation to his Wednesday testimony.

“We negotiated a second chance for offenders before you get on a registry, because there were things brought to us such as if they met somebody in a bar or they’re drinking, you would think that they were old enough to be there but come to find out the person was only 16,” Grove said. “You don’t want to destroy anybody’s life, but if you’re a repeat offender, I want you in prison for a long time away from our children. We negotiated in good faith, but the whole time they were negotiating in bad faith. And I can tell you that someone told me that in 21 years, they have never seen that happen.”

The bill now must make its way through the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee before going to the Senate floor, and Grove said her team is working to strengthen the bill. This setback was extremely disheartening for victims of sex trafficking and would only embolden sex traffickers, she argued.

“These amendments say, ‘Buyers, you have free rein,’” Grove said. “Any perpetrator that enjoys engaging in sexual activity with a child is going to just continue to do it, because it’s going to still be just a slap on the wrist.”

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation