The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill toughening penalties for juveniles who commit sex crimes, dubbed "Audrie's Law" after a 15-year-old assault victim who committed suicide, but the measure stalled Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Civil rights groups and children's protective groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose the bill, Senate Bill 838, as a major change in juvenile criminal law - especially its mandatory two-year term of incarceration for violation. And those criticisms were echoed by the committee's liberal members, including chairman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat.
Ammiano suggested - and the bill's author, Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, very reluctantly agreed - to postpone a committee vote until next week. The measure faces an June 27 deadline for committee approval or rejection.
Beall's measure would expand juvenile sexual offenses to include sex with an unconscious or disabled person, make a crime of disseminating photos of sex crime victims via the Internet or other social media, and require the two-year mandatory terms.
He introduced it in response to the suicide last year of Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old Saratoga high school student who was assaulted while unconscious from drinking at a party. Pictures of her naked, unconscious body were circulated via text messages and the Internet, forcing her - as her parents later testified - to repeatedly relive the humiliating experience and leading to her hanging suicide several days later.
The three 16-year-old youths involved in the assault were each given just a few weeks in juvenile detention. Current juvenile law does not mandate incarceration for assault of an unconscious or disabled victim.
Beall described the current law as "our fault and we need to correct the problem" but Ammiano insisted on delaying action in hopes of amending the bill to get enough votes to move out of the committee.
"There is a sweet spot here, I know there is," Ammiano said.