Members of California's overwhelmingly Democratic State Assembly prevented a bill that would make child sex trafficking a serious felony from advancing to the full Assembly, leaving the bill in what one Republican described as "legislative purgatory."
The Assembly's Appropriations Committee on Wednesday moved the bill to "the suspense file," which Sacramento's CapRadio describes as a parliamentary procedure that allows some bills to "be killed without public debate."
Former state senator Melissa Melendez (R.) had an even starker definition, describing the procedure as "legislative purgatory."
To get out of the suspense file, the bill will have to pass a closed-door hearing with high-ranking legislators. "Behind closed doors … the appropriations chair—and, to some extent, the top leaders in each legislative chamber—have final say on which bills pass and which ones are held," according to a former lawmaker who spoke to CapRadio.
The bill, which Republican state senator Shannon Grove introduced last year, would "classify trafficking of children and teenagers younger than 18 years old as a serious felony on par with murder, arson, and rape," the Washington Free Beacon reported. While a bipartisan Senate majority passed the bill, six Democrats in July blocked it from advancing in the Assembly.
Facing intense political pushback, including from local media, those Democrats abruptly reversed their position two days later.
Now, the Appropriations Committee is saying the bill has a fiscal impact of over $150,000, prompting the suspense file process.
Grove had harsh words for those who would put a "price tag" on "a victim of human trafficking, especially a child."
"Selling a child to be raped over and over again is a crime so grotesque, immoral, and barbaric it should be prevented and stopped at any cost," she wrote in a press release.
California, Grove noted, "has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the top states for human trafficking in the United States. Thousands of people, many of them minors, are forced into sexual and labor exploitation each year."