With just two more days left in the legislative session, state lawmakers have found the political will to unanimously pass three bills to help combat sex trafficking. One other foster-care bill is still in play and deserves consideration before Thursday’s adjournment.
As mentioned in previous Opinion Northwest blog posts and Seattle Times editorials, legislative action is necessary because hundreds of children are forced to sell their bodies every night. Some get caught up in the life for years before they are able to find help. Foster kids without a permanent home are especially susceptible to pimps and their false promises of clothing, shelter and love.
Here’s the status of several trafficking-related bills measures as of Tuesday morning: (Note: The status of each bill is subject to change.)
HB 1292 — Allows survivors of the commercial sex trade to petition a judge to have previous prostitution convictions vacated. As The Seattle Times editorial board wrote in two editorials on Feb. 10 and Feb. 26, clearing criminal records gives victims the opportunity to find jobs, go back to school and start fresh.
Status: Passed the House on Feb. 12. Passed the Senate on March 5. On March 10, the House unanimously agreed with the Senate’s amendments. HB 1292 now heads to the governor’s desk.
HB 1791 — Expands the definition of sex offenses to include the crime of trafficking in the first degree when force, fraud or coercion is used to cause the victim (minor or adult) to engage in a sexual act for commercial purposes. The Senate tacked on an amendment to this bill that would address the demand side of the sex trade by authorizing authorities to seize the property buyers use to patronize a sex working, including their money, cars, boats and aircraft.
Status: Passed the House on Feb. 12. Passed the Senate unanimously on March 5. House concurred in Senate amendments on March 10. HB 1791 now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.
SB 6126 — Courts statewide would be required to appoint an attorney to represent the nearly 10,000 children placed in the foster-care system. Washington is one of a handful of states that does not mandate legal representation for kids in dependency cases. In this Feb. 16 editorial, The Seattle Times editorial board argued that “helping foster kids navigate the system as soon as they enter it is likely to keep them out of trouble and save the state money in the long run. Attorneys can help shorten a child’s time in care and improve his or her chance of finding a permanent home.” Keeping children from running away also keeps them away from those who would do them harm, including pimps.
Status: Passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 17. Passed the House unanimously on March 7. Senate concurred in Senate amendments on March 10. SB 6126 now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.
EHB 2335 — Expands extended foster-care services to young adults who are employed for at least 80 hours per month. Those in this program receive assistance with housing until they are 21, which has been shown to keep them from becoming homeless — and easy targets for traffickers. In Washington state, 35 percent of foster kids are homeless within a year of leaving the system. As I wrote in this Feb. 19 column, authorities believe a large number of sex workers are foster kids.
Status: Passed the House and is included in the House budget proposal. ($83,000 in state funding plus $23,000 in federal matching dollars). Referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee on March 7. As of Monday morning, advocates said Chairman Andy Hill had not included the line item in the Senate’s final budget. However, there’s always a chance he could change his mind before Thursday’s deadline.
SB 6435 — This bill would have required convicted criminals to pay restitution to their victims, including medical services, mental health care, rehabilitation, lost income, legal fees and other losses.
Status: The bill was passed out of the Senate Law & Justice Committee on Feb. 7. On March 3, the bill was placed in the Senate’s “X” file, meaning it will not go any further this session. Lawmakers should try again next year. Trafficking will not end unless the state does more to curb demand and punish the johns who pay for sex.