Thursday, June 30, 2011

Senate Approves Human Trafficking Bill with Several GOP Caucus Amendments

Today the Massachusetts Senate adopted a series of amendments offered by the Senate Republican Caucus to Senate Bill 1950, An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) offered the amendments to create stricter penalties and to provide law enforcement officials with the necessary tools to prosecute human traffickers more effectively.

Senator Tarr said, "For far too long our laws have been silent on the intolerable crimes involved in human trafficking. Today we have seized an opportunity to confront criminal enterprises that degrade human beings into property and abuse them in unconscionable ways."

He went on to say, "Now that we are taking action on this front, it's imperative that we do so in a way that brings swift and strong punishment to those who would enslave another person for criminal purposes. The amendments we have secured in today's debate, if signed into law, will ensure strong penalties for offenders and effective tools for prosecutors to apprehend and bring them to justice."

A total of four Republican-filed amendments were adopted by the Senate, including one that would increase the bill's proposed punishment of human trafficking from 15 years to 20 years in jail. The amendment passed by a roll call vote of 35-1. Another amendment would create a 5 year mandatory minimum jail sentence for the first offense of trafficking a victim who is a minor.
Other Republican amendments adopted by the Senate today include:

* expanding the scope of a newly created taskforce within the legislation to examine the creation of Massachusetts laws to target racketeering similar to the Federal Government's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) of 1970 with the focus on organized human trafficking rings. Currently, gaps exist in Massachusetts law that frustrate prosecutors' abilities to strike at the elements of human trafficking enterprises that depend on the exchange of cash and other assets; and

* creating a separate additional crime for the enticement of a minor with the use of any electronic device, including the internet, that carries either a fine of $2,500 or a maximum of five years in jail for the first offense, and not less than five years in jail for subsequent offenses. The amendment passed by a roll call vote of 36-0.

During Senate floor debate, Tarr expressed his appreciation to not only Knapik, Hedlund and Ross for their support of the several amendments, but also to Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) for his unyielding advocacy for the passage of anti-human trafficking legislation over the past several years.

The amended bill, which passed unanimously by a roll call vote of 37-0, will now go to a six member conference committee where the differences between the two versions will be worked out. The members of the conference committee are expected to be appointed next week.