On Monday, a bill that would no longer automatically place people on the sex offender list for performing certain sexual acts with minors was narrowly passed by both houses before the session deadline, making the bill one step short from becoming law.
Big changes to the sex offender registry in California
Senate Bill 145, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would change the Sex Offender Registration Act by exempting those who commit certain sexual acts with minors who are not more than 10 years older than the minor, and who are committing their first offense, from having to register automatically as a sex offender.
The bill specifically applies to cases with 14 to 17-year-olds who had sex with adults 10 years older than them or younger and would also remove a requirement for automatic registration for oral and anal acts.
The change would put anal and oral sex acts on parity with vaginal sex acts, which currently a judge decide can decide on a case by case basis if a young adult and minor sex act constitutes their inclusion on the sex offender registry, as well as statutory rape charges. Judges currently do not have that discretion on anal or oral cases.
An adult having sex with a minor would also still remain illegal in California.
Senator Wiener defends SB 145
Senator Wiener and supporters of the bill, who have ranged from LGBT groups to law enforcement organizations, have said that the hotly contested bill is an anti-discriminatory law, as the current law specifically targets the LGBT community and gives stiffer penalties to gay people who broke the law.
“Senate Bill 145 is an anti-discrimination law,” said Senator Wiener on Thursday. “It ends discrimination against LGBTQ people on the sex offender registry. This bill has no application to anyone under the age of 14. And that age range is an existing category in the law. It has existed for almost 100 years.”
In a previous statement, Senator Wiener also noted that “This irrational discrimination on the sex offender registry was created when California banned LGBT sex. This distinction between vaginal intercourse and other forms of intercourse is a relic of California’s discriminatory past, and it’s time to bring an end to it. Going on the sex-offender registry can ruin a young person’s life, making it harder for them to find a job and housing. We need to put an end to this terrible discrimination.”
Senator Wiener has also defended the bill against charges of promoting pedophilia, saying that those who are promoting that are “misinformed.”
“A 19-year-old has a 17-year-old girlfriend and they have sex, that is statutory rape, ” added Wiener. “But the law right now says that the judge does not have to put that 19-year-old boy on the sex offender registry because of the kind of sex that they were having. But if it’s a 19-year-old boy having sex with a 17-year-old boyfriend, the judge must put that 19-year-old onto the sex offender registry, even if it was completely consensual, even if they were boyfriends, even if there was nothing coercive or predatory about it.”
The bill is the subject of a massive misinformation campaign by MAGA/QAnon.
Here are the facts per AP: https://t.co/SSdLH0rS3V
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) September 2, 2020
Republicans, some Democrats joined in opposing SB 145
SB 145 was hard fought in both houses of the Legislature. Republicans were joined by several Democrats in opposing the bill, either voting against the bill or not voting. In the Senate voting was close with a 23-10 with 7 abstention final tally, while the Assembly vote of 43-25-13 was close to striking down the bill before the midnight deadline on Monday.
Many lawmakers saw the bill as legalizing pedophilia, or not adequately punishing such behavior. Several Republicans gave scenarios that would no longer constitute an automatic sex offender registry placement, such as a hypothetical scenario of a 24-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old.
“SB 145 is on its way to the Governor’s desk. If signed into law, a 24-year-old could have sexual relations with a 15-year-old child without being required to register as a sex offender,” tweeted Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). “Tell Gavin Newsom to veto SB 145 to help save our children.”
⚠️LEGISLATIVE ALERT⚠️#SB145 is on its way to the governor's desk. If signed into law, a 24-year-old could have sexual relations with a 15-year-old child without being required to register as a sex offender.
— Senator Shannon Grove (@ShannonGroveCA) September 1, 2020
Capitol insiders also noted other reasons behind the movement to vote down the bill.
“Many actually wanted automatic registry more on any adult who committed acts like that against a minor, including vaginal acts that are currently up to judges to decide on,” explained “Dana,” a State Capitol staffer, to the Globe.
“People were accusing this of being anti-gay, but those who opposed it were really against allowing any leeway in pedophilia cases or similar crimes. If anything, they wanted to make it equal and have it be mandatory for all cases. But that isn’t how it played out Monday.”
With SB 145 still being contested so hotly, especially online and in the current news cycle, it is unlikely that Governor Gavin Newsom will make a decision on the bill soon. There is currently no indication if Governor Newsom will sign the bill into law later this month.