After months delay, Newsom sent 'walking while trans' loitering law repeal

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday June 20, 2022
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Governor Gavin Newsom was sent a controversial bill that decriminalizes loitering for adults with the intent to engage in sex work. Photo: Courtesy AP<br>
Governor Gavin Newsom was sent a controversial bill that decriminalizes loitering for adults with the intent to engage in sex work. Photo: Courtesy AP

After a monthslong delay, a bill that decriminalizes loitering for adults with the intent to engage in sex work is being sent this week to Governor Gavin Newsom to sign into law. Such criminal codes have been referred to as "walking while trans" laws due to police using them to arrest transgender women who engage in prostitution in order to make a living.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the Bay Area Reporter that he would make a motion Monday, June 20, to enroll Senate Bill 357, which he authored, and send it to Newsom's desk for his signature. The process usually takes a few days, so Newsom could conceivably sign the controversial legislation into law ahead of the Pride celebrations taking place this weekend in San Francisco and numerous other cities across the state and nation.

"It is Pride Month, and it is time to send this bill to the governor," said Wiener.

Newsom has 12 days to either sign or veto SB 357 once he receives it. If the bill does become law then California would join the state of New York in repealing its loitering laws. The Empire State did so in 2021.

Asked for comment last week, the governor's office told the B.A.R. it would not make a statement "at this time" regarding the bill. It usually refrains from discussing legislation until it receives the bill in question.

Considering the timing of Wiener's decision to finally submit the bill to Newsom during Pride Month, it seems unlikely the governor would veto it. Wiener told the B.A.R. last week that he is optimistic about seeing SB 357 become law.

"The governor has not told us what he will do, but what I know is Gavin Newsom has been a staunch ally to the LGBTQ community and he understands our community," said Wiener. "I am confident he will have an open mind about this bill."

Bamby Salcedo, a trans Latina immigrant woman who is the president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition based in Los Angeles, told the B.A.R. she hopes Newsom will see the importance of supporting SB 357.

"I am hopeful that the governor will understand the importance of this bill and what this bill is going to do. It will improve the quality of life for individuals who practice or exercise sex work," said Salcedo by phone last week while in Washington, D.C. due to attending President Joe Biden's Pride event at the White House June 15. "I am hopeful the governor does the right thing, understanding sex work is work and people who do this type of work we need to be supporting."

Salcedo added that she was "super grateful and excited that Senator Wiener is doing this in June. It is an important issue for our community."

Bill approved last year

The California Legislature had approved the controversial bill during its legislative session last year, but Wiener made the decision to postpone sending it to Newsom last fall. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that the bill was being held at the request of Newsom's office.

Its story raised questions about the impact of the bill on police's ability to crack down on sex trafficking pimps. The legislation doesn't decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work but merely eliminates people being arrested on a loitering offense for "appearing" to be a sex worker, noted Wiener's office.

Sex workers and various advocacy groups, as well as the district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles, supported the bill. In an interview earlier this year with the B.A.R., San Francisco Police Chief William Scott urged Newsom to sign SB 357 into law.

"Yes, I hope it gets signed because I think it is the right thing to do," responded Scott when asked about the bill during an interview with the B.A.R. "It is forward-thinking and helps us do what we as a police department do; that is, help keep people safe and protect people from crimes."

Last October, Wiener told the B.A.R. he would likely send SB 357 to Newsom's desk in January. That did not happen, and Wiener had repeatedly said the bill would "soon" be transmitted to the governor during subsequent interviews but had not given an exact timeline for doing so. He had until August 31 to send it to Newsom.

Some changes already made

Certain police departments have already made changes in how they implement California Penal Code section 653.22, which makes it a misdemeanor to loiter in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution. In 2017, Scott issued a bulletin that clarified how San Francisco police officers should address a sex worker who is a victim or witness of a violent crime and/or who may be subject to arrest.

It stated they were not to arrest "persons for involvement in sex work or other forms of sex trade when they are victims or witnesses" to various crimes. Specifically, it said officers were not to arrest sex workers in such situations under the state penal code section relating to loitering.

Wiener's bill, among its provisions, repeals that section of the state penal code.

In the Legislature Wiener's bill faced opposition from a number of his Democratic colleagues in addition to Republican state legislators. As the B.A.R. first reported in January, nearly two-dozen Democratic legislators lost points on the annual scorecard produced by statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California for their not voting in support of SB 357.

EQCA has expressed its hope that Newsom will sign Wiener's bill. Should the governor end up vetoing it, his score on the organization's 2022 Legislative Scorecard would be impacted.

"Throughout his career Governor Newsom has been a champion and ally for the LGBTQ+ community, and we are certainly hopeful he will sign this important legislation to address profiling of the trans community and women of color in particular," Samuel Garrett-Pate, EQCA's managing director of external affairs, told the B.A.R. earlier this year.

The change in the law called for in SB 357 comes down to an issue of trust between sex workers and police officers, explained Scott, so they are not fearful of reporting crimes committed against them or those they witness while out on the streets.

"Sex workers are many times victims and get victimized of brutal crimes, robberies, sexual assaults, things like that," he said. "We heard as part of group discussions for us to put our sex worker policy in place that some don't feel they can come to the police because they are sex workers and can't report what is happening to them. That is a tragedy."

Amid the relentless legislative assault against LGBTQ rights, especially protections and health care access for transgender youth, in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country, Wiener told the B.A.R. that implementation of SB 357 would send a powerful message.

"Particularly with all the attacks on trans people around the country, it is incredibly important for California to be crystal clear that we support trans people and the entire LGBTQ community," he said, "and we're going to stop criminalizing trans people."

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