State Senate Sit-lie Ban Fails in Committee

by Lukas Illa

With the room packed and members of the public spilling out to the hallway, the California Senate Committee on Public Safety rejected Senate Bill 1011, a bill that sought to criminalize homeless encampments within 500 feet of a public or private K-12 school, major transit stops and “open spaces.”

The committee voted 3-1 against SB 1011, with another one abstaining. The vote prevented the bill from moving to the full Senate. This was the second failed attempt at a statewide sit-lie ban in two years.

While the committee granted the bill reconsideration, a classification where it can still be brought to the Senate for a full vote, its future seems highly unlikely, given the committee’s rejection and lack of support from majority members. 

The two senators co-authored the bill, Brian Jones (R-Santee) and Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas), argued that it does not aim to criminalize homelessness but is instead  only a part of the toolbox necessary to solve homelessness.

“We all deserve to have clean spaces in public that are safe and inviting,” Blakespear said. “We also deserve to have open spaces that protect nature and do not create a flow of human and animal waste and trash and debris into our waterways.”

Still, the bill met with opposition from homeless advocates. Dez Martinez, a pillar in the Fresno homeless advocacy community who opposed SB 1011, spoke of the violence that the city imposes upon unhoused people during sweeps.

“I have witnessed and endured brutal punishments on us, especially the ones that suffer with physical disabilities,” she said. “Punished because we don’t move fast enough, so everything is taken: blankets, food, clothing, medicine, IDs, tents, tarps, and even our dog food—anything that would help us survive to the next day.”

The American Civil Liberties Union California Action and a litany of homeless advocacy groups brought dozens of community members, such as Martinez, to voice opposition to the bill.

The public safety committee’s chair, Aisha Wahab (D-Fremont), and committee member Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland) both spoke to the limited protections  local and state governments offer people experiencing poverty. Skinner said that the bill was redundant because local municipalities already have the ability to institute similar ordinances.

Joining Wahab and Skinner in voting against the bill was Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who was absent  during the bill’s discussion in committee. Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta) was the lone yes vote. Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) voted present.

Last session, a similar bill, SB 31, had been introduced as an exclusively Republican-supported bill. This year, SB 1011 was a bipartisan effort with three Democrat co-sponsors: Blakespear, Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Modesto). With its success in securing bipartisan support on its second time around, SB 1011 appears primed to be re-introduced next session, too.

“SB 1011 will ultimately destroy many lives by pushing people further away from services,” Martinez told the committee. “We are dying, trying to survive. Please be our hope.”