Tuesday morning, Senate Judiciary A took up HB 571, the Human Trafficking Bill, presented by Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.
The original bill would allow for Child Protective Services (CPS) to be included in the agencies able to investigate, place and rehabilitate victims of trafficking, additional training for law enforcement and first responders, move the position of State Human Trafficking Coordinator from the Attorney General’s office to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) and one of the most important portions would clarify that an individual under the age of 18 could not be charged with prostitution.
The bill passed through the House with relative ease at a vote of 116 to 0 (3 absent votes).
In the Senate Judiciary A meeting a strike all was offered by Senator Sally Doty that would add language from Senate bill 2305, another human trafficking bill that focuses primarily on penalties for those involved.
Here’s what the Senate bill would do:
- It increases penalties.
- It cleans up some of the language in the original bill.
- Makes requirements that the Human Trafficking Coordinator be notified by CPS, a mechanism for receiving those reports would be established.
Committee member, Senator Turner-Ford challenged the language from the House version that prevents anyone under the age of 18 from being charged with prostitution. She inquired as to why an exception was being made for this crime based on age. This was similar to points also argued in the House before the bill was passed.
“How is the offense of prostitution any different than another crime,” asked Turner-Ford. “I don’t understand why we would draw that type of distinction for prostitution when we wouldn’t for something like grand larceny.”
Turner-Ford acknowledge there are some individuals who are caught up in trafficking rings and are being forced to make these decisions but challenged whether that theory applied to everyone.
“If they’re 17 or 16, they’ve made a conscious decision to do some of these things,” said Turner-Ford.
Senator Doty said that the language was based on a policy decision. She called on Sandy Middleton, Executive Director for the Center for Violence Prevention, to give a brief explanation on why experts believe that the charge of prostitution on a minor is wrong.
“We don’t believe that it should be a crime. We don’t believe that children should be charged with prostitution. We believe them to be exploited, if they’re a minor it’s up to good policy to protect them,” said Middleton. “It’s a policy decision following a national trend to protect our children. If we charge them with prostitution it re-criminalizes them and it criminalizes their behavior when in fact they should be treated as a victim.”
With some questions from members still left unanswered, Senator Doty said they would like to see this bill make it to conference where more discussion of the specific changes could take place.
The strike all was adopted and the bill passed before the deadline Tuesday nights for general bills originating in the opposite house to pass from committee.