SACRAMENTO — A California bill intended to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people in sex crime convictions has captured the attention of Republicans and far-right conspiracy theorists, who are demanding a veto from Gov. Gavin Newsom and say state Democratic leaders are putting teenagers at risk.
The measure, Senate Bill 145, would amend existing state law that allows judges to decide whether an adult convicted of having vaginal sexual intercourse with a minor should register as a sex offender in cases in which the minor is 14 years or older and the adult is not more than 10 years older than the minor.
Currently, adults who are convicted of having oral or anal sex with a minor under those circumstances are automatically added to the state’s sex offender registry. SB 145 would eliminate automatic sex offender registration in those cases, and give judges discretion to make that decision.
Newsom’s decision to sign or veto the legislation promises to have both a state and national political impact. Along with opposition from Republicans in the state Legislature, supporters of President Trump and far-right conspiracy theorists have seized on the bill in an attempt to use the measure as a political wedge issue and rallying cry, with some falsely claiming on social media that California is legalizing pedophilia.
Assemblyman Chad Mayes, an independent from Yucca Valley, warned fellow lawmakers about the potential political consequences just moments before he voted in favor of SB 145 on Aug. 31, the final night of the state legislative session.
“This is one of those bills you will take a political hit for,” said Mayes, who left the Republican Party in 2019. “But we also know that it’s righteous and just. This is the time to step up.”
The bill’s author, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), said the disparity in current state law that SB 145 would address is a remnant of California’s old anti-sodomy laws, many since repealed, that were intended to criminalize sex between gay men.
The intent of SB 145, he said, is to address cases in which two people close in age — an 18-year-old and 17-year-old dating in high school, for example — are in a sexual relationship. The 18-year-old can still be convicted of a sex offense but should not automatically be registered as a sex offender, a lifelong designation that is an impediment to finding employment, a place to live and other necessities of life, Wiener said.
“We need to stop criminalizing teenagers for having sex,” he said.