By TOM JOYCE
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Two new laws regarding people on the streets will take effect in California next year.
One law deals with sex workers and could result in fewer prostitution arrests. The other will result in fewer penalties for jaywalking.
Both laws will go into effect on January 1, 2023.
In June, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 357 into law. The bill, sponsored by state Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, decriminalizes “loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution.”
When signing the bill into law earlier this year, Gov. Newsom reiterated that it didn’t legalize prostitution; he argued that it would offer protection to transgender individuals, which he said were disproportionately targeted by law enforcement without this protection.
“To be clear, this bill does not legalize prostitution,” he said at the time. “It simply revokes provisions of the law that have led to disproportionate harassment of women and transgendered adults. While I agree with the author’s intent and I am signing this legislation, we must be cautious about its implementation. My Administration will monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences and will act to mitigate any such impacts.”
However, opponents of the law argue that it is dangerous. They say it will lead to increased human trafficking, expose children to the sex work industry, and ultimately close businesses.
“Legalizing street prostitution is not the answer to protecting a sex worker. Instead, street sex leads to crime, violence, and a deterioration of our communities. It will drive businesses away. It will set a terrible example for our children,” Million Kids CEO and President Opal Singleton Hendershot said in August 2021.
The other bill Gov. Newsom signed into law is AB 2147, sponsored by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. It legalizes jaywalking when the pedestrian can reasonably assume that crossing does not put anyone in danger.
“It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street. When expensive tickets and unnecessary confrontations with police impact only certain communities, it’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians,” Assemblymember Ting said in a press release about the bill. “Plus, we should be encouraging people to get out of their cars and walk for health and environmental reasons.”
Additionally, Zal Shroff, Senior Staff Attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, said that the law is a racial justice issue.
Mr. Shroff argues that the law will help minorities, who he says are cited disproportionately for jaywalking.
“All Californians will benefit from the Governor’s decision to sign AB 2147—the Freedom to Walk Act—into law,” Mr. Shroff said in the release. “No longer will law enforcement be able to stop people who are safely crossing the street and burden them with citations and heaps of debt. For too long, our jaywalking laws were used as a pretext to stop and harass people, especially low-income people and people of color. The reforms enacted in AB 2147 will put an end to that and, in doing so, make all of California safer for pedestrians.”