By TOM JOYCE
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – California may soon take an anti-prostitution law off the books.
State Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, sent the Safer Streets for All Act, Senate Bill 357, to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk in hopes that he’ll sign it into law.
The Legislature passed SB 357 last year. However, Sen. Wiener withheld the bill at the Senate desk.
Gov. Newsom will have 12 days to decide whether or not he supports the law. It would repeal a provision of California law criminalizing “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution,” according to a press release from Sen. Wiener’s office.
“This criminal provision – arrests for which are based on an officer’s subjective perception of whether a person is ‘acting like’ or ‘looks like’ they intend to engage in sex work – results in the disproportionate criminalization of trans, Black and Brown women, and perpetuates violence toward sex workers,” Sen. Wiener’s office said.
Sen. Wiener said that he thinks his bill will help the LGBT community as well as racial minorities.
“This Pride Month, as we see a surge in violence against and harassment of the LGTBQ community, it is more important than ever to get rid of a law that targets our community,” Sen. Wiener said in a press release. “Current law essentially allows law enforcement to target and arrest people if they are wearing tight clothes or a lot of make-up. Many of those impacted by this law are Black and Brown trans women. Pride isn’t just about rainbow flags and parades. It’s about protecting the most marginalized in our community. I urge Governor Newsom to sign SB 357.”
The bill does not decriminalize prostitution. However, it “eliminates an loitering offense that leads to harmful treatment of people for simply ‘appearing’ to be a sex worker,” according to Sen. Wiener’s office.
The bill has support from various groups like Equality California, Transgender Gender-variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), the American Civil Liberties Union, and. The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST LA).
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department opposes the bill, saying it would remove a way the department controls prostitution in neighborhoods and high-traffic areas.
“Prostitution operations require the use of extensive undercover operations and there are limited amounts of personnel and funding to do this type of work,” the department said in a statement. “Penal Code section 653.22 allows our patrol functions to enforce this section, and there are of course way more patrol officers than there are undercover officers available for extensive operations.”
Fatima Shabazz of the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition criticized the current law as racist.
“SB 357 repeals a Jim Crow law that criminalized Black and trans people in public spaces,” Ms. Shabazz said in the press release.
And Ashley Madness of the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition said the current law is an example of police not improving public safety.
“We hope that the Safer Streets for All Act will help people understand how policing does not create public safety and will immediately deprive police of one tool they use to harass and oppress folks based on race and gender.”