HARRISBURG — Legislation to stiffen the penalties for those who profit from human trafficking as well as patrons who visit businesses that exploit trafficking victims is heading to Gov. Tom Wolf after passing the state House on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 60 was approved by the state Senate unanimously in November.
Wolf supports the legislation, his spokesman J.J. Abbott said.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888 or by text at 233733) received reports about 621 trafficking victims in Pennsylvania in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available on Wednesday. Those victims were part of 275 different cases around the state — more than 80 percent of them involving sex trafficking allegations.
“The widespread nature of this crime, which robs an individual of their basic human rights, is more abhorrent by the fact that the average age of a victim of sex trafficking or sex slavery is between 12-14 years old,” state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York County, said in a memo about SB 60.
Mary Quinn, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greater Harrisburg, said a campaign to examine human trafficking on the Route 15 Corridor in the 12 counties along the central Pennsylvania highway revealed an alarming number of cases.
“Since starting this work in 2014, we have served almost 300 victims,” she said.
Senate Bill 60, which passed in the state House by a vote of 183-4, will double the amount of maximum jail time that an individual may serve for trafficking or patronizing a victim of trafficking. Currently, these crimes are second-degree felony charges carrying a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The bill upgrades these to a first-degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Recognizing the connection between prostitution and human trafficking, the legislation also increases the fine for repeat offenders of those patronizing prostitutes. This begins by setting an additional fine for a second-time offender of at least $1,000 but no more than $20,000. A third-time offender would see an additional fine of at least $5,000 but no more than $30,000.
In addition to SB 60, the House passed six other human-trafficking bills, which now go to the Senate for its consideration.
• House Bill 161, which would make trafficking of infants a first-degree felony
• House Bill 2174, which would bar defendants in trafficking cases from using allegations about the victim’s history of sexual victimization as evidence in court
• House Bill 2175, which would allow expert testimony in court regarding human trafficking
• House Bill 2176, which would increase the number of activities that qualify as "unlawful contact with a minor"
• House Bill 2177, which would expand the number of offenses that require sex offender counseling for convicts
• House Bill 2178, which would require courts to consider if a household member has been convicted of human trafficking before awarding child custody
All of the House human trafficking bills passed unanimously.
Jennifer Storm, Pennsylvania’s victim advocate, said the legislation would represent significant updates to the state’s human trafficking laws by creating a “more trauma-informed justice system” and by “peeling back the layers of trauma to expose the evil-doers” who are perpetrating the human trafficking.
House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, said the public is only beginning to understand the scope and pervasiveness of human trafficking across the state.
“It’s happening here in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s happening in every corner of the state.”
How quickly the measures headed to the Senate will move in that chamber wasn’t immediately clear on Wednesday, though Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, signaled they may get traction.
“We look forward to reviewing these bills,” she said. “This has been a topic in which our caucus has expressed a lot of interest.”
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.