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Senate approves human trafficking bill 99-0; Next up vote on Loretta Lynch nomination with Vitter and Cassidy opposed .

April 27, 2015 ·  By (Credit to Nola.)


Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Chairman Christopher Smith, R-N.J., left, speaks with witness Father Shay Cullen, president and chief executive officer, PREDA Foundation, after a hearing on the fight against human trafficking, in Washington, Wednesday, April 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)


WASHINGTON — For a bill that passed 99-0 Wednesday (April 22), it sure took a long time.

The Senate finally passed the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act after nearly six weeks of delay resulting from a dispute over contentious anti-abortion language added to the bill by Republicans. That issue was finally resolved this week.

The bill aims to protect victims of human trafficking; a notorious crime that entraps people, many of them young, in the sex and drug trades, or into hard labor for no or little pay.

The legislation would create a fund — paid for from fines by people convicted of perpetrating these crimes — to benefit victims. The bill also would train doctors and other health professionals so they can spot victims and know how to help and aid groups, like Covenant House of New Orleans, which try to help victims. Sen.Bill Cassidy, R-La., a physician, added the provision, which was formerly added to the bill on Wednesday.

“If our nurses and doctors can better identify victims of human trafficking, they can help bring relief to those suffering in ways that those of us who have never been there cannot imagine,” Cassidy said. “There is still work to be done to stop human trafficking, but this will help.”

Jim Kelly, executive director of Covenant House New Orleans, which serves young victims of human trafficking, said the bill will provide badly needed resources to help victims.

“This bill is about healing and hope,” Kelly said. “We will be able to offer the professional care and to begin the healing process for these young women. With time, they will regain their hope for a new future and life.”

Still, the long delayed showed the dysfunction in Congress — that legislation supported by every senator who voted Wednesday couldn’t get an up or down vote for six weeks.

“An effort to fight back against human trafficking in our country is, without question, no place for gridlock and dysfunction,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.  “It certainly shouldn’t have taken this long, but I’m pleased that we were able to work together, find common ground, and reach an agreement.”

The sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn R-Texas., said that unfortunately for quite some time the criminal justice system treated victims of human trafficking as criminals –arresting young women and men forced into the sex trade instead of going after those who enslaved them and the Johns that paid for sex.

“That is beginning to change,” Cornyn said. “All this legislation is designed to do is to help the victims of human trafficking get rescued and then begin to heal and to get on with their lives.”

The compromise that ended the impasse over the bill changes language originally added by Republicans that would have barred the fund being created from fines paid by perpetrators of human trafficking from being used for abortion.

The compromise gets around the dispute by saying that money collected from fines will go to legal services, while money appropriated by Congress will go to health services and will include the long prohibition under the Hyde Amendment of using tax dollars to pay for abortions.

The 99-0 vote came after several Republicans dropped several immigration related amendments that sponsors worried would slow, or block passage. One pending amendment was by Sen. David Vitter, R-La. It would have moved to reverse the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship to people born in the United States. Vitter’s amendment would have limited citizenship to the children of U.S. citizens, or others with legal status.

The Senate bill still must be reconciled with a similar human trafficking bill that passed the House.

Passage also allows for a vote Thursday on the long-stalled nomination of Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as attorney general. She is expected to win confirmation, despite significant Republican opposition, including from Louisiana’s two GOP senators, Vitter and Cassidy.

The only senator absent for Wednesday’s 99-0 vote Wednesday was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas., who recently announced his candidacy for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.


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