House moves to tighten Pennsylvania’s human trafficking laws

The state House chamber.  (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The state House chamber. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The state House is throwing its support behind proposals to put convicted human traffickers and their customers in prison longer, and change the way trafficking crimes are prosecuted.

The measures are widely expected to become law.

All eight bills received bipartisan support, and nearly all of them passed the House unanimously. Representative Joseph Hohenstein, a Philadelphia Democrat, said they’re a no-brainer.

“Addressing this issue of human trafficking is a nonpartisan issue,” he said on the House floor. “It is an issue that affects us all.”

One of the measures, which would change human trafficking from a second to first-degree felony, has already passed the Senate.

It now goes to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. A spokesman confirmed that he plans to sign it.

The other seven bills also affect the criminal justice system. One would let experts testify more frequently in trafficking cases. Others would broaden the list of possible sexual crimes against minors, require courts to make sure people with connections to human traffickers aren’t awarded custody of children, classify trafficking of infants as a first-degree felony and expand counseling for sex offenders in jail.

Another, sponsored by Allegheny County Representative Natalie Mihalek, a Republican, would prohibit defendants from bringing up trafficking victims’ sexual histories as evidence.

“We need to empower our criminal justice system with the tools necessary to prosecute these predators and provide victims the voice they have been denied,” Mihalek said.

The Senate still needs to pass those bills. Jenn Kocher, the spokeswoman for the chamber’s Republican majority, made no promises but noted the members have expressed “a lot of interest.”

Wolf’s spokesman said the governor supports the full package of legislation.

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