Calif. Lawmakers say buying 16, 17-year-olds for sex isn’t a felony

The Senate Public Safety committee forced amendments on Sen. Shannon Grove to exempt people who solicit commercial sex from 16 and 17-year-olds.

California Democrats decided on Tuesday that purchasing a 16 or 17-year-old for sex is not a felony. 

Democrats in the Senate Public Safety Committee forced amendments on the bill that the author, Sen. Shannon Grove (R–Bakersfield), objected to. Those amendments denied her efforts to protect 16 and 17-year-old children from being purchased as part of commercial sex trafficking. 


The backstory: Current California law makes it a misdemeanor for anyone who purchases or solicits a minor for sex, which carries a jail sentence of two days to one year and a maximum fine of $10,000. 

  • Last year, Grove pushed through Senate Bill 14, which reclassified human trafficking of minors for the purpose of sex as a serious felony under state law. 

The proposal: While SB 14 went after human traffickers who are selling children for sex, her new proposal, Senate Bill 1414, goes after the buyers. 

  • Her proposal would make it a felony to purchase or solicit a minor for sex, regardless of whether or not the person knew that minor was under the age of 18. 
  • SB 1414 would send violators to prison for two to four years and levy a fine of $25,000. 
  • Anyone convicted of soliciting a minor would also be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. 
  • Senators Anna Caballero (D–Merced) and Susan Rubio (D–Baldwin Park) introduced SB 1414 alongside Grove. 

Driving the news: Right from the start of Tuesday’s hearing with the Senate Public Safety Committee Grove agreed to two amendments in the hopes of finding a middle ground with the Democrats on the committee. 

  • Grove agreed to remove the strict liability from the bill and remove the requirement for violators to register as sex offenders if this is their first offense. 
  • Senators Kelly Seyarto (R–Murrieta) and Steven Bradford (D–Gardena) spoke in support of Grove. 
  • But Senators Aisha Wahab (D–Hayward), Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley) and Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco) disagreed, listening to opposition from Smart Justice California and the California Public Defenders Association. 
  • Natasha Minsker with Smart Justice California argued that the solicitation of 16 and 17-year-olds should be excluded from being a felony because that could have devastating consequences for teens and young adults who make the choice to solicit sex from a 16 or 17-year-old. She also said law enforcement would use this bill to unfairly target the LGBTQ community. 
  • The California Public Defenders Office argued that the age of consent in the majority of states is 16, meaning it should not be a felony to solicit sex from someone 16 or older. 

The big picture: Wahab, Skinner and Wiener voted to force the exemption for soliciting 16 and 17-year-olds on Grove and passed SB 1414 with all of the amendments. 

  • They also decreased the fine from $25,000 to $10,000 if the solicited minor was under the age of 16 and set the jail time at a maximum of one year. 

What they’re saying: “In the state of California you have to be 18 to buy a lottery ticket, colleagues, 21 to purchase cigarettes because they’re so detrimental to your health, but somehow there are individuals who think that selling your body for sex at 16 years old is old enough and it should be OK,” Grove said during the hearing. “Regulating the tobacco industry but not commercial sexual exploitation of children seems rather troublesome to me. Buying a child for sex at any age should be treated as the serious crime that it is.” 

  • Wiener called the bill “incredibly overbroad” and that the committee could have just turned it down instead of working with the amendments. 
  • “This bill goes well beyond human trafficking, and I think human trafficking, we should be throwing the book at people,” Wiener said. “This bill will sweep in a lot of people who are not trafficking. This bill will send people to state prison, put people in the sex offender registry – which is basically, effectively, in many ways the end of their life for people – whether or not they’re engaged in human trafficking. And again, even if there’s no physical contact whatsoever.” 
  • Following the hearing, Grove posted on X that she will be discussing the next steps with human trafficking survivors, advocates and organizations who are deeply invested in the outcome of the bill. She also thanked Seyarto and Bradford for their support. 
  • “Today, the Senate Public Safety Committee refused to pass my bill to send child sex buyers to prison,” Grove said on X. “Instead of making the buying of kids a felony with prison time, the committee forced me to take amendments I didn’t agree with and watered down my bill to allow a fine or minimum county jail time.” 
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