By Sandra G. Leon
A bill was signed into law on Friday by Governor Gavin Newsom that could allow more adults convicted of engaging in sex acts with a child as young as 14 years old to escape being registered as a sex offender.
Senate Bill 145 by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) allows judges to decide on a case-by-case basis if adults convicted of sodomy, oral copulation, or penetration of a minor between 14 and 17 years old with an object should be required to register as a sex offender and their information made available in the online databases available to the public. Currently, all cases of such crimes are required to be registered as sex offenders. Under the language of the bill, the offenders cannot be more than 10 years older than the minor to qualify for the judicial discretion.
Senator Wiener has said that state laws since 1944 have allow judges the discretion to decide if men that have vaginal sex with a minor girl between 14 and 17 years old have to register as sex offenders and that this bill only seeks to treat adult offenders against boys the same as those with girls.
Wiener argues that the current law discriminates against gay men that have sex with boys.
“Tragically…our sex offender registry still mandates that a young person in a consensual relationship who performs these ‘gay’ sex acts must be placed on the sex offender registry and our courts are prohibited from using their discretion to keep them off, even if the couple is close in age and in a healthy relationship,” Senator Wiener wrote in an official Assembly analysis of his bill.
Wiener also passed SB364 in 2017 that allows for a petition process where registered sex offenders can apply to be removed from the requirement after 10 years from their conviction.
Child advocates argue that the Legislature should have raised the legal standards so that any sex act with any minor is automatically required to be registered sex offenders, not to lower the standard to allow more child predators to escape reporting. Critics of the bill argue that laws having allowed for the treatment of sex acts against girls to be in anyway less sever is a hold over of antiquated misogynist views against women.
The took two years to work through the legislative process and passed both the Assembly and Senate floors on August 31st, the last day of the legislative year in Sacramento.
San Diego legislators were split on the bill, with three voting for it, four voting against it, and two not voting on it at all. The vote on the Assembly floor was 41 to 18, having received the minimum number of votes to pass.
Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, and Democratic Assembly Members Todd Gloria and Shirley Weber voted for the bill.
“This is a bill about social justice and equality,” Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber said in her support of the bill. “This is about not having discrimination and we have to acknowledge the fact we have done that since the history of this country and every now and then we have to step forward and make it right,” Weber said.
Democratic Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, Tasha Boerner-Horvath, and Brian Maienschein, along with Republican Senator Pat Bates, voted against it.
Assemblywoman Gonzalez-Fletcher stood to speak against passage of the bill and challenged her colleagues to “give me a situation where a 24 year-old had sex with a 14 year-old, any kind of sex, and it wasn’t predatory, any example, and I’ve yet to see it.”
“Any sex is sex, I don’t care who it’s between or what sex act it is,” Gonzalez-Fletcher said during her speech on the Assembly floor. “That being said, I cannot in my mind, as a mother, understand how sex between a 24 year-old and a 14 year-old could ever be consensual, how it could ever not be a registerable offense.”
Democratic Senator Ben Hueso and Republican Assemblymember Randy Voepel did not vote on the bill.
Los Angeles-based attorney Samuel Dordulian, who represent victims of sexual abuse, says “SB 145 actually deteriorates the rule of law by providing any individual who sexually assaults a minor an opportunity to potentially evade the sex offender registry” and that it “hamstrings a valuable deterrent for reducing sex crimes that deleteriously impact all communities.”