Sunday, May 11, 2008

Senate Drops Human Trafficking & Smuggling Bill Revision

By Deborah Bulkeley

From Deseret News:

The Senate on Tuesday cited a GOP caucus position when it took back its revision to a House bill that creates state criminal penalties for human trafficking and smuggling.

HB339 had been amended Monday before initial Senate approval to reduce the crime of human smuggling from a second degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor, in order to coordinate with a provision in SB81, a comprehensive bill dealing with illegal immigration.

On Tuesday, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said the entire closed GOP caucus had wanted the change, except for Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

The misdemeanor provision had been an agreement reached by Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, in order to garner the support needed to move the bill from committee to a Senate vote. Romero made clear his frustration at that agreement "being revoked."

Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, also expressed concerns at the political maneuvering.

"Sen. Romero talked to Rep. Herrod in a true and honest-to-goodness way to solve this problem," he said. "To take this so late in the session, and take a caucus position. It sets a bad example."

The arguments against Romero's amendment centered around the severity of human trafficking as modern day slavery. Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, said the committee's agreement does not mean the entire Senate needs to follow suit.

"I don't think I could in good conscious vote for this as a misdemeanor, when here we are talking about making animal torture a felony," she said.

However, under Romero's amendment, human trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation would still have been a second degree felony. And both crimes would be aggravated to a first degree felony if they involved death of a smuggled or trafficked person or if they involved sex crimes or victims held against their will for more than 180 days.

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