Butler praises House fight against human trafficking

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From the House/Rep. Dwight Butler

 FRANKFORT - We’ve long said our first priority in policymaking is to ensure the welfare of our “most vulnerable” - our children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, specifically. This week, we moved forward in adding Kentucky’s increasing number of human-trafficking victims to that priority list.

By a unanimous vote of 13-0, the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 350. Should it become law, the legislation would create new felony crimes for human trafficking, and increase funding to both prosecute traffickers and advocate against this modern-day form of slavery.

Many of the more than 130 known human trafficking victims in Kentucky — around 43 percent — were initially trafficked for sex or forced labor, or both, as children. Some were adults when they were finally identified and rescued. HB 350 would protect both child and adult victims by, among other things, allowing the financial assets of anyone convicted under the law to be seized and forfeited. All assets would go to help victims and advance police and prosecutorial work on trafficking cases.

A couple of new felony crimes that traffickers could be prosecuted under would actually be created by HB 350. ‘Patronizing prostitution” and “patronizing a minor” would both be established to increase prosecution based on the very specific sex and/or forced-labor component of human trafficking cases.

Some lawmakers and others, particularly in the legal community, have questioned the need for specifying the new crimes, which mirror the crime of unlawful transaction with a minor currently on Kentucky’s law books. But HB 350’s supporters say that the specific nature of the facts in human trafficking cases makes the creation of the new criminal provisions both necessary and non-duplicitous.

If passed, HB 350 would also create a new Kentucky State Police unit to investigate human trafficking rings, and promote better training in patterns of trafficking for law enforcement, prosecutors, victims and victims’ advocates. The bill will now be considered by the full House, where floor amendments proposing additional changes to HB 350 are expected to be filed in coming days.

The scourge of child pornography is a problem worldwide, and one that has not left Kentucky unscathed. Yet law enforcement officials say they need more specific tools to pursue cases against those who view ‘kiddie porn’ in the Commonwealth. In response, the Kentucky House voted 97-0 on Wednesday to pass HB 126, which would make the intentional viewing of child pornography a felony under state law.

Possession of child pornography in Kentucky is already a Class D felony, which can carry one to five years in prison. But intentionally viewing such images (as on the Internet) is not yet a crime. Under HB 126—which now goes to the Senate—the Commonwealth would outlaw the “deliberate, purposeful and voluntary viewing” of the images except when required by law enforcement in the course of a criminal investigation.

Another growing problem in Kentucky is cervical cancer. The Commonwealth ranks among 11 states, mostly in the South and Southeast, with the highest rates of cervical cancer in the nation over the past five years. Since cervical cancer is commonly caused by a strain of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), the House took action this week urging young people to be vaccinated against HPV.

House Resolution 80, which cleared the House 87-4, will send a message from the Kentucky House to citizens throughout the state that girls age nine through 26 and boys age 11 through 26 should receive the HPV vaccine. It also would encourage Kentuckians to become more knowledgeable about the vaccine. Since HR 80 is a simple resolution, it does not carry the force of law. But it does allow House members a “bully pulpit” to collectively draw attention to the vaccine’s benefits.

Creating jobs is the intent behind another bill that cleared the House floor this week. HB 400—which was passed by the House on a 95-0 vote on Thursday—would expand eligibility for tax incentives under the 2007 Kentucky Jobs Retention Act to Kentucky’s Toyota and GM automaker plants. The original legislation helped bring up to 3,000 jobs to Louisville’s Ford Motor Company plants.

A plan to raise the school dropout age from 16 to 18 by 2017 has also cleared the House in recent days, as did legislation that would allow voters to amend the state Constitution to restore the voting rights of most types of felons after they complete sentencing, probation or parole. HB 216—which contains the school dropout proposal—and HB 70 -- which includes the felon voting rights provision -- passed the House by votes of 87-10 and 78-18, respectively. Both have been sent to the Senate.

The work of House committees has intensified over the past two weeks, as the 60-day 2012 Regular Session neared and passed its halfway point on Feb. 16. Over that time, committees have invited testimony on a number of emotionally charged bills,  including HB 77, which would allow charter schools in Kentucky, and HB 260, which would make the now-private University of Pikeville the state’s ninth public university. Other discussions are expected on these bills as the session continues.

As far as committee action goes, several bills in addition to HB 350 were passed out of House panels this week. One of those bills was HB 390, which would make the theft of copper and other valuable metals less lucrative in Kentucky.

The legislation, which was approved by the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee last week, would remove the incentive to commit these costly thefts by preventing metal recyclers from providing immediate cash for those metals, instead requiring anyone selling them to be mailed a check after showing proof of ownership. The legislation appears to have considerable support, considering that metal theft is rampant, costing an estimated $1 billion each year in the U.S.

We have much more to do in the Kentucky House in the 25 legislative days remaining this session, and you can stay informed of all the action by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.govor by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. For committee meeting schedules, please call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. Or, to comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.  You can also reach me via e-mail at dwight.butler@lrc.ky.gov.