The state already has laws to combat human trafficking. So why is this ballot measure necessary?
If reducing sex trafficking and forced labor were as simple as adopting a ballot measure that promised to deal with those predatory practices, there would be every reason to vote for the popular Proposition 35 (PDF). But the initiative system doesn't work that way. Voters must ask more than whether they would like to see those cruelties come to an end. They must be satisfied that the particular, far-reaching and inflexible penalties and procedures that would be enacted by this measure would help; that they are the best approach to solving an actual problem; and that actual progress would dwarf any unintended consequences.
Proposition 35 fails those tests. Voters should not be lulled into believing that by approving this measure they will be taking effective action against slavery and sexual exploitation. Even if well intentioned, this initiative falls well short of the mark. The Times urges a no vote.
Voter initiatives can be an important check on a legislature so captured by special interests or partisan politics that it fails to deal with problems as they arise. There is plenty of evidence that California's Legislature is too timid or cowardly to deal with a variety of problems, but human trafficking is not one of them. The state doesn't lack for effective laws to combat trafficking. It is among 21 states that have passed significant anti-trafficking legislation. California and federal law today severely punish abduction and pimping of minors (and adults, for that matter), false imprisonment, forced labor and rape. Just last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two more important pieces of legislation, including a measure that will make it easier for prosecutors to seize traffickers' assets.
These laws were adopted after hearings and testimony, consultation with law enforcement and legal experts, drafting and redrafting. They are designed to take apart the problem systematically and in the context of other criminal laws. Although they deal with separate aspects of the trafficking problem, together they form a comprehensive and — importantly — evolving approach.
Ballot measures, by contrast, are notoriously inflexible, engrafting into law provisions that cannot be changed — without yet another initiative — as drafting flaws come to light, experience provides useful guidance and data pile up to show which practices are effective and which simply make us feel good.
Proposition 35 all too well displays the weaknesses of the ballot process. For example: