Sen. Grove criticizes changes made to her child protection bill

(Senator Shannon Grove's Office)

Sen. Shannon Grove alleges her legislation aimed at safeguarding minors from sexual exploitation underwent significant changes by senate Public Safety Committee

SACRAMENTO – According to a California state senator, the senate Public Safety Committee has gutted her legislation that was designed to safeguard minors from sexual exploitation, pushing it forward despite her objections and without her endorsement.

Senate Republican Shannon Grove represents the 12th District, which includes Sierra National Forest, Sequoia and Kings County National Parks, Sequoia National Forest, parts of Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield, as well as the Mojave National Preserve. Grove was elected on Nov. 8, 2022; her current term ends in 2026.

On Feb. 16, 2024, Grove introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1414. The bill, co-authored by Senators Anna Caballero and Susan Rubio, would make solicitation, or any form of commercial sex with a minor, a felony. Anyone convicted of a repeat offense would have to register as a sex offender.

On Feb. 29, the bill was referred to the Public Safety Committee and a hearing was set for April 16. On April 18, the bill was amended and passed out of the Public Safety Committee. On April 22, the bill was amended, again, reread and passed to the Appropriations Committee.

But according to an April 16 release from Grove’s office, the bill she initially drafted bears little resemblance to the bill that the Public Safety Committee amended and approved.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that not only did my colleagues reject my proposal to make the buying of children for sex a prison felony, but that I was blindsided when they amended my bill without consent,” Grove said in the press release.

Grove added, “Children of all ages deserve to be protected under the law, and a simple fine after buying a child for sex is not an appropriate punishment. Californians across the state have made their voices heard and they want this law changed. Unfortunately, the members of the public safety committee continue their soft on crime approach at the expense of California’s most vulnerable: our children.”

In an April 22 email to the Times, Brooke Sorensen, Grove’s communications director, said the committee added “hostile” amendments to the bill. Sorensen said a hostile amendment is one that was added without the author’s consent. She added such amendments can be added if a member of the committee or a member on the senate floor proposes an amendment and if a majority of members – either on the committee or on the floor – agree, then the bill can be amended.

Breaking down SB 1414

In the email, Sorensen said Grove’s proposed bill contained three important components. One: The solicitation or purchase of children would result in a felony with prison time. Two: Offenders could be fined up to $25,000. Three: Repeat offenders must register as sex offenders.

Sorensen said the hostile amendments passed by the Public Safety Committee bore little resemblance to Grove’s original language. According to the email, solicitation or purchase of children 15 years or younger for the purpose of sex is punishable by a wobbler, which allows a district attorney to charge a defendant with either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Sorensen’s statement is partially correct. First, it must be noted that nowhere in Grove’s original or in the amended language of the bill is there mention of purchasing a minor for sex. The reference to the wobbler is correct, but the actual revised language reads:

This bill would also require that the defendant who solicited the minor be 18 years of age or older. The bill would, if the person solicited was under 16 years of age, make the offense punishable as a wobbler by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year and a fine not to exceed $10,000 or by imprisonment in the county jail for 16 months or two or three years. For a 2nd or subsequent offense, if the person solicited was under 16 years of age, the bill would require that the offense be punishable as a felony by imprisonment in the county jail for 16 months or two or three years.

Sorensen said the revised bill allows for a felony charge only if the minor was 15 years or younger; however, the defendant would not be looking at prison time.

The bill contains 12 references to felonies, but none has to do with a minor who is 15 years or younger.

Lastly, Grove’s office objected to how the revised language deals with repeat offenders and the conditions under which these individuals must register as sex offenders. In her email, referring to the revised language, Sorensen wrote, “If a buyer has a previous conviction of soliciting or purchasing a child under 16 years old and is convicted on a second offense of buying a child under 16 years old and the victim and buyer are more than 10 years apart in age, the buyer would register as a tier one sex offender (10-years).”

The bill’s actual language reads, “The bill would require a person who is 18 years of age or older, on or after January 1, 2025, is convicted of, and who has a prior conviction for, soliciting a minor, as specified, to annually register as a sex offender for a term of 10 years if, at the time of the offense, the person was more than 10 years older than the solicited minor.”

Under California law, any act related to prostitution – working as a prostitute or engaging in the services of a prostitute – is treated as a misdemeanor. The law lumps these infractions under disorderly conduct.

The Times reached out to the Public Safety Committee, but the committee stated that all of their comments for this story were to be kept off the record, and not included in this article.

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