‘Modern-day slavery’: Assemblyman Cunningham combats human trafficking with 2 new bills

As several criminal cases allegedly involving human trafficking make their way through San Luis Obispo Superior Court, the county’s former prosecutor-turned-state Assemblyman submitted another two bills Tuesday to target the activity.

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham — who represents San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties — introduced two bills that his office says would build on legislation he got passed last year that give prosecutors the tools they need to convict pimps and human traffickers and further protect victims.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” Cunningham said in a written statement. “We were able to pass a number of important bills to fight trafficking last year, but there is still more we can do to protect victims and give law enforcement the tools they need.”

The first anti-human trafficking bill submitted by Cunningham in his second term, Assembly Bill 662, would “breathe life into a little-used statute that could be helpful in closing down trafficking locations by simplifying current law,” according to a news release from Cunningham’s office.

According to the bill, current state law makes it a criminal offense to “entice an unmarried female under 18 years of age and of previous chaste character to a house of prostitution or elsewhere for the purpose of prostitution or illicit carnal connection with a man, to aid or assist in that enticement, or to procure by fraudulent means a female to have illicit carnal connection with a man, as specified.”

Cunningham’s bill would modernize those offenses in gender-neutral terms, remove the requirement that the minor be of “previous chaste character” and make other technical changes.

Assembly Bill 663, also introduced Tuesday, would establish mandatory minimum fines for convicted pimps, traffickers and johns. The law would also allow counties to retain up to 75 percent of all fines collected from the offenders to be used for providing services to trafficking victims.

Both bills have been referred to the Assembly Committee on Public Safety and as of Tuesday did not yet have a hearing date scheduled.

Before building a private law practice in Templeton, Cunningham worked as a deputy at the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, which has identified human trafficking as a law enforcement priority in recent years.

There are currently two ongoing criminal cases against three defendants charged with transporting women for the purpose of prostitution.

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, at podium, leads a news conference with San Luis Obispo County officials in January at the County Courthouse to announce four state Assembly bills that aim to fight human trafficking. One of those bills was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday. Matt Fountain

In May, a Fresno man who trafficked women for sex work in Paso Robles and other California counties was sentenced in San Luis Obispo Superior Court to 10 years in state prison.

In his first term, Cunningham had mixed success with a four-bill package that targeted similar issues of loopholes and outdated language with state law as it related to sex trafficking and its victims.

Two bills — one that authorizes automatic 10-year protection orders for adult victims of sexual or forced labor trafficking and another that allows prosecutors in some cases to introduce a victim’s prior statements at trial — were signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last summer.

The state legislature, however, did not pass the other half of the package; both of those bills died in the Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety between July and September.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.