California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a controversial bill repealing loitering related to possible prostitution on July 1.
The measure, entitled the Safer Streets for All Act, SB 357, rolls back a provision in state law that allowed police officers “to arrest individuals who ‘delay or linger without a lawful purpose’ if it appeared they were trying to engage in sex work,” per reporting from CNN.
In a letter to the state Senate, Newsom clarified that prostitution is still illegal, and that the bill “repeals only the loitering offense that targets people for ‘appearing’ to be sex workers,” according to The Hill.
“To be clear, this bill does not legalize prostitution,” he wrote. “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.”
The Safer Streets for All Act also allows individuals convicted of loitering to petition the court for dismissal or resentencing of their charge.
Supporters of the bill, which is sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener, applauded Newsom’s decision, arguing that the previous provision disproportionately impacted transgender women and women of color.
While introducing the bill, Wiener noted Los Angeles crime statistics showing that Black adults accounted for over 56% of loitering charges between 2017 and 2019, despite representing less than 10% of the city’s population.
The California law comes after several other states passed “walking while trans” laws, including a New York bill passed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo last year repealing anti-loitering provisions.
“We’re experiencing a terrifying epidemic of violence against trans women of color, and we need to be proactive in improving their safety,” Wiener said, adding that the former law relied heavily on the subjective interpretation of individual police officers, and that enforcement of loitering was often based on an individual’s appearance and dress. “This criminal provision is inherently discriminatory and targets people not for any action but simply based on how they look.”
The law, which will go into effect on January 1, 2023, was criticized by human trafficking advocates who say repealing the anti-loitering provision will limit officers’ ability to identify human trafficking victims and criminals.
“If signed into law, SB 357 would severely limit law enforcement’s ability to identify victims of human trafficking — even if the victims are minors,” Stephany Powell, director of law enforcement training and survivor services at the National Center of Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), said in a news release. “Many officers rely on the loitering laws to initiate trafficking investigations that have led to serious convictions for traffickers and pimps.”