By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California would repeal mandatory jail time for convicted prostitutes under a bill approved by the state Senate amid growing concern that many are victims of human trafficking or addicts who need treatment.
The measure by Senator William Monning, a Democrat, reflects a growing national conversation about whether people who exchange sex for money should be viewed as victims rather than as criminals, along with a movement in California to end mandatory sentencing for non-violent offenders.
"As we learn more, particularly about women who engage in prostitution, we're learning more and more about human trafficking," Monning said. "There is also an intersection with drug and alcohol use."
His bill, which the Senate voted to approve on Monday, would end the state's mandatory sentences for repeat prostitution offenders, which currently call for a minimum of 45 days in county jail for a second offense, and 90 days for a third offense. Jail time for the misdemeanor crime is not mandated for first offenders.
The bill is one of about 40 trafficking-related measures before California lawmakers this session, according to the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris. One of them, backed by Harris, would create an inter-agency task force to seek data on trafficking and develop new ways of responding to it, including new law enforcement approaches.
The National Organization for Women is backing several human trafficking-related measures before lawmakers this year, and is reviewing Monning's bill, said Jerilyn Stapleton, president of the National Organization for Women's California operations.
Monning's proposal, which passed the Senate 23-14 and now goes to the Assembly, also comes amid a nationwide movement to reduce the number of non-violent offenders who are imprisoned that has won support by many Republicans as well as Democrats.
California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is backing a ballot initiative that would roll back some mandatory sentencing guidelines, saying the system has taken discretion away from judges and ultimately contributed to recidivism by providing inmates with little incentive for rehabilitation.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Leslie Adler)