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Human Trafficking Bill Finally Clears Senate

After several weeks of consideration, the Senate approved, on April 22, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178), by a vote of 99-0. The bill would establish a fund to aid domestic trafficking victims. The measure also would authorize block grants to assist states to assist in developing, improving, and expanding child trafficking deterrence programs.

The Senate Judiciary Committee initially passed the legislation on February 26 (see The Source, 3/27/15). However, further Senate action stalled over the inclusion of language that would restrict money in the fund from being used for abortions (see The Source, 3/15/15 and 3/20/15). In addition, some Senate Democrats expressed concern that the funding mechanism – $5,000 fines assessed against convicted sex traffickers – would be insufficient to provide the victims’ services specified in the bill.

In order to break the log jam, the Senate approved, 98-0, an amendment by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that would address both concerns. First, the fines collected from sex traffickers would fund law enforcement assistance grants and other services to detect and prevent sex trafficking. Such funds would not be subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

Additional funds to provide health care services for trafficking victims would be allocated from those provided for community health centers under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (P.L. 114-10) (see The Source, 4/17/15). The trafficking victims’ health care fund would receive at least $5 million annually; the amount would be increased, as necessary, to match the fines collected from sex traffickers. Such funds would be subject to the Hyde Amendment.

During consideration of the bill, the Senate passed several amendments, including:

  • An amendment by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to increase grants to states that have in place laws that terminate the parental rights of men who father children via rape;
  • An amendment by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) to require the Department of Defense to notify the Department of Justice of individuals required to register as sex offenders;
  • An amendment by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to aid in the recovery and rehabilitation of trafficking victims; and
  • An amendment by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to create a public database of services for sex trafficking victims.

For coverage of additional amendments, please click here.

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