California Assembly Bill 22, if passed by the Senate, would make human trafficking a felony offense in California. Called the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the bill was passed by the Assembly on Wednesday with strong support by a vote of 57 to 11. Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View), who introduced the bill this past February called the initiative “the nation’s most comprehensive state anti-trafficking law” in an open letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. According to Lieber, human trafficking is not considered a crime under current California law.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Washington, Minnesota, Arizona, and Missouri have all passed laws that provide some form of state protections for trafficking victims. Further, laws like the one pending in California have the potential to empower states to step in when federal law enforcement agencies fail to or are unable to act under the current provisions of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Passed in 2000, the federal TVPA toughened penalties against traffickers and provided critical protections for trafficking victims, the majority of whom are women and girls. State laws like the one pending in California could further strengthen protections against forced labor because these laws would cover trafficking within the state, not just across state lines, according to the Times. The U.S. government estimates that between 14,500 and 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year.