(The Daily Signal) – Last week, one Democrat in the California state Assembly made a rare public apology—not over a scandal, but over her position on a vote that had taken place the same week.
Assembly member Liz Ortega had joined fellow Democrats just a few days earlier in blocking a bill aimed at cracking down on human trafficking of children. The move justifiably made national headlines and garnered widespread criticism. But it shouldn’t take a national controversy for Democrats to vote the right way on something as blatantly evil as the human trafficking of children.
Now, Ortega says she “made a bad decision,” and in her public apology on Twitter, she wrote, “Voting against legislation targeting really bad people who traffic children was wrong. I regret doing that, and I am going to help get this important legislation passed into law.”
On July 11, the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety failed to pass SB 14. The only two Republicans on the committee voted in favor. Yet not a single one of the six Democrats on the committee, including Ortega, voted in favor of the bill, instead making the cowardly decision to abstain from voting at all.
The bill had already passed unanimously in the California state Senate in May with bipartisan support.
SB 14 would make “human trafficking of a minor” a “serious felony” under Section 1192.7 of the state’s penal code. “Serious” felonies get harsher punishments under California law and are considered “strikes” under California’s “Three Strikes Law.”
Eighty-nine nonprofits and organizations and 13 individuals registered their support for the bill (including a number of district attorney’s offices, police departments, and anti-trafficking groups), while only seven groups opposed it.
The state of California Department of Justice’s own website states, “California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the United States.” Thus, a bill aimed at making the penalty for trafficking children harsher should be something that California Assembly members of both parties can see is necessary.
After originally declining to vote for the bill, Ortega told The Washington Free Beacon, “Sending someone to prison for the rest of their lives is not going to fix the harm moving forward. And that’s the part I’m struggling with. It’s a complex issue.”
Ortega’s grave misunderstanding of the criminal justice system was covered over by her with a veneer of compassion. It ignores the fact that putting a trafficker behind bars for a significant amount of time is not only an act of justice for the crimes that were committed, but it also protects the children whom the trafficker might target next were he or she not behind bars.
At the California Assembly’s hearing for the bill last Tuesday, one survivor of trafficking, Odessa Perkins, called out the Democrats’ reluctance to inflict harsher penalties for child trafficking as continuing the “horrific cycle of abuse and depravity.”
As a black survivor of trafficking in California, her testimony contradicted opponents of the bill, who claimed the proposal would lead to lead to overcrowded prisons or contribute to mass incarceration of black individuals, saying, “I was molested and raped repeatedly by black and white men and even some women. So, it does not matter the race. What matters is saving our children. Traffickers are getting out of jail, parole, and reoffending … .”
Progressives who are soft on crime may try to use their tired and routine talking points, but this is simply not a racial issue, an economic issue, or even a partisan issue. It’s about protecting vulnerable children.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove, expressed her shock and frustration that SB 14 was blocked, saying, “I am profoundly disappointed that committee Democrats couldn’t bring themselves to support the bill, with their stubborn and misguided objection to any penalty increase regardless of how heinous the crime.”
Even Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was unhappy with the committee’s Democrats. The day after the committee vote, he called Grove to see how the bill might be revived. After the call, Newsom told reporters, “I want to understand exactly what happened yesterday. I take it very seriously.” He further noted that he “cares deeply” about the issue of child trafficking.
The public outcry and chastisement from California’s liberal governor were enough for most of the Democrats on the committee to reverse course entirely. On Thursday—just two days after the initial vote—the committee voted on SB 14 again. This time, it passed with six votes in favor while two Democrats still abstained from voting.
This is a small victory for justice and for the survivors of human trafficking.
Next, the bill must be approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which will likely vote on the bill in mid-to-late August, before going on to the full Assembly. Grove believes that “most Assembly Democrats want to vote for this bill if they are given a chance” and is hopeful that the bill will be successful.
The controversy in California comes at a time when child human trafficking is garnering heightened attention after the theatrical release of the movie “Sound of Freedom,” based on a true story of a sting operation in Latin American that successfully led to the rescue of dozens of children trapped in sex slavery.
Negative reactions to the movie from some legacy media outlets have been outrageous.
The Guardian published the following headline: “Sound of Freedom: the QAnon-adjacent thriller seducing America.” Rolling Stone followed suit with the headline “‘Sound of Freedom’: Box Office Triumph for QAnon Believers.” The Washington Post attempted a faux nuanced tone with “QAnon and ‘Sound of Freedom’ Both Rely on Tired Hollywood Tropes.”
Many in the legacy media are trying to discredit “Sound of Freedom”—and its underlying message that the trafficking of children is a serious problem that ought to be addressed—by linking it to the QAnon conspiracy theory. But that raises the question: Why? Do these progressive elites not think that human trafficking of children happens? Or is the reason even more sinister?
The exact motivation is unclear, but what should be clear to Christians is that there is an intense spiritual battle surrounding this issue right now. We must pray that the darkness will be exposed, and that Americans’ hearts will be moved to bring the perpetrators of trafficking to justice and the victims of trafficking to freedom.
Human trafficking should be exactly the type of issue that unites everyone with an intact conscience. Human trafficking, especially of defenseless children, is a horrifying reality—one that everyone should want to see effectively combated, and ultimately ended.
The debacle over SB 14 last week was unexpected and disappointing, even for California. It might have taken a national uproar for Democrats there to rethink their position on SB 14, but at least some did rethink it and change course.
We can hope that California Assembly members will now work diligently to see SB 14 pass the full Assembly. Beyond that, politicians across the United States should strategize on how our laws can more effectively address this scourge upon society.