This post has been updated.

Last year was a blockbuster for advocates of human trafficking victims. A slew of new laws were passed – addressing everything from prostitution charges for minors to new rules on the release of victims’ personal information and options for how they testify in court.

But, like with any big, messy social problem, there’s more to be done. And many San Diego legislators and others across the state are pushing another round of bills meant to aid victims and crack down on perpetrators.

SB 767, 270 and 230 by Sen. Toni Atkins

Bills from Sen. Toni Atkins address the many sides of trafficking – one is prevention-focused, one is rehabilitation-focused and one would aid prosecutors in convicting traffickers.

SB 767 would require each county to create a specialized foster family placement protocol for child trafficking victims. It would require counties to give an extra stipend and training to foster families taking in trafficking victims and would create a special court to deal with them.

SB 230 would let prosecutors bring up a defendant’s past record of sex trafficking as evidence at trial, as is allowed with other sex crimes.

SB 270 would require hotel and motel employees to receive training to spot potential trafficking victims and how to report potential cases to law enforcement (a similar bill died last session).

Another bill by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago also focuses on hotels – it would require hotels and other locations where people come and go – like truck stops – to post notices about trafficking and resources people can call if they think someone is in danger. That bill is co-authored by San Diego Assemblyman Randy Voepel and Assemblywoman Marie Waldron.

AB 900 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher

Relaxes the rules surrounding the paperwork victims must submit in order to recover lost income from the state Victims Compensation Fund.

Stephanie Richard, policy and legal services director for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking, said to her knowledge, “no trafficking victim has ever recovered lost income during their trafficking experience.”

That’s because in order to access that pot of money, “the regulations require a letter from your employer. No trafficking victim is going to have access to those kinds of documents,” said Richard, whose group is a sponsor of AB 900.

How much money could victims potentially recover? Richard said it depends on the case, but test cases have showed victims of labor trafficking might be owed as much as $30,000, and a test case for a sex trafficking victim showed that person might recover $10,000. There’s a $70,000 cap on how much a victim can receive for everything covered by the fund.

AB 1495 by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein

The bill allows victims and public prosecutors to sue both “Johns” and pimps – the customers and the providers of trafficking victims – in civil court for up to $10,000 per unlawful act.

It’s sponsored by the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.

SANDAG Reform Bill Would Boost SD Mayor’s Power

A bill in Sacramento to reform the scandal-plagued agency SANDAG would also make San Diego’s mayor way more powerful.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 805 would change the agency’s voting structure to give larger cities more power, let transit agencies like MTS impose taxes on their own and create an independent auditor to oversee SANDAG’s taxing and spending on regional transportation.

But it would also make San Diego’s mayor the chair of MTS, and make the mayors of San Diego and Chula Vista the chair and vice-chair of SANDAG, alternating who holds which of those roles. Right now, SANDAG’s chair is a board member who has climbed the ranks through seniority, and MTS’s chair is a local resident appointed by the other board members.

Gonzalez said everyone knows who the mayor is – which means if he or she is in charge of SANDAG and MTS, everyone will know how to how to hold him or her accountable, too.

“What’s been happening hasn’t produced a result that anyone who cares about transportation funding can be happy with,” she said.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, a former SANDAG board member, has his own bill, AB 1324, which would let SANDAG impose taxes on a smaller, more tax-friendly portions of the county.

“I have always advocated for repairing our crumbling infrastructure, and this provides a way to do it,” Gloria said in a statement.

Gonzalez said she was open to Gloria’s idea, but not without the systemic changes she’s proposed.

“I do not want to see their taxing authority made easier without significant reforms,” she said.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, who represents one of the small cities that would lose sway under Gonzalez’s proposal, said he supports SANDAG reforms, but that they shouldn’t come from Sacramento.

“The section of AB 805 calling for an independent audit committee is a concept with merit that should be considered,” he wrote in a statement. “However, it should be considered by the SANDAG Board, not implemented through state legislation. The rest of the bill jeopardizes the current level of regional cooperation throughout San Diego County.”

– Andrew Keatts

Goodbye, CEQA Loophole?

In 2016, voters in San Diego County rejected two developments put on the ballot for approval.

Those developments were trying to take advantage of a legal loophole that allows developers to eschew environmental review – and protect themselves from related lawsuits – if their projects are either approved at the ballot or gain enough signatures to be placed on the ballot, but are instead adopted outright by a city council.

Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, is looking to close that loophole in a new bill.

AB 890 would require development projects to undergo a full environmental review before they start gathering signatures. If any significant environmental impacts are found, it would still be vulnerable to lawsuits during the environmental review process if it did not address those issues – meaning that trying to use the ballot to avoid the state’s premier environmental law, CEQA, would be futile.

The 1,500-home, sprawling Lilac Hills Ranch turned to the ballot after County Supervisor Bill Horn had to recuse himself and the project was facing lawsuits over its environmental analysis. The project only gained a bit more than 30 percent of votes countywide. Rick Caruso’s mall project in Carlsbad gathered signatures to avoid environmental lawsuits from its competition. The Carlsbad City Council approved the project without sending it to voters, resulting in a community referendum that shut down the project last February.

Supporters of the SoccerCity plan to remake the Qualcomm Stadium site are also gearing up to gather signatures to fast-track their project.

Medina said the bill was motivated by a similar situation in his district in Moreno Valley in 2015, where a 41 million square foot warehouse complex was approved outright by city leaders after gathering signatures for the ballot, insulating it from environmentally related legal challenges.

The whole issue began in August 2014, when the California Supreme Court ruled that a Walmart in Tuolumne County was shielded from environmental lawsuits because it had gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot and was then adopted outright by the Sonora City Council.

Since then, several projects throughout the state have been going to the ballot to leapfrog environmental law, including two football stadiums in Inglewood and Carson.

Medina’s bill hasn’t been heard in committee yet, but is being sponsored by a trade union, the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California and an environmental group, the Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice.

Maya Srikrishnan

Grab Bag, Feat. Your San Diego Reps.

• The Union-Tribune wants to know why Assemblyman Brian Maienschein is keeping people in the dark over a move meant to honor “sunshine”:

To honor Sunshine Week, which is March 12-18, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, introduced a nonbinding resolution that touted government openness and said “the California Legislature shall make available to the public all legislative information tools at its disposal.” Then the Legislature reference was removed — and Maienschein’s office won’t say why. So much for demonstrating openness and transparency. Maienschein’s actions speak much louder than his words.

• Sen. Pat Bates, whose district mostly includes Orange County but stretches into northern San Diego County, has been elected leader of the Senate Republicans. (Sacramento Bee)

• Who knew: Sen. Toni Atkins has a friend and fan in Bo Derek.

Golden State News

• Despite continuing to pass laws the Chamber of Commerce has deemed “job-killers,” California is ranked as the best state for business. (U.S. News)

• California voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, but Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ideas are catching on in the state Legislature. (Cap Public Radio)

• Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson doesn’t mince words in this interview – she straight up calls President Donald Trump “a lunatic.” (Lenny Letter)

• The state auditor has found that the Department of Social Services doesn’t get all the information it needs for background checks, which means people with criminal histories are inappropriately allowed access to children, the elderly and the mentally ill.

• The Legislature is working on a single-payer health care bill; Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed universal health care. Both face steep paths, but “California has been a beacon for the nation in the past; it can show what a compassionate society can do to guarantee health care as a right and not a privilege in the future.” (The Nation)

Clarification: This post has his story has been updated to reflect information provided by Gonzalez’s office after this story published. Gonzalez’s office said the intent of the SANDAG bill, though it has not yet been written into the proposal, would be for the mayors of San Diego and Chula Vista to always be chair and vice-chair of SANDAG, and that they would alternate those positions.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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