Trafficking legislation at a standstill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Though lawmakers are on a recess, they still have a lot of legislation left on the table, including a controversial sex trafficking bill: the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. It’s a bill that senators couldn’t pass before they left Washington last month.

“It’s become a target of folks that don’t want to see any legislation in the United States Senate,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). “It’s a sad day when a human sex trafficking bill can’t find bipartisanship.”

Hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked each year in the United States. It’s a national issue that hasn’t received any national attention until recently. The Justice Act is in a legislative standoff because of the inclusion of an amendment that would prohibit federal funds from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger.

This amendment, called the Hyde Amendment, isn’t new – it’s always included in appropriations bills. But it has many Democrats seething, saying the “poison abortion language” has no place in a human trafficking bill.

Despite the partisan bickering, there are four Democrats who still voted yes for the bill: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Donnelly (IN), Bob Casey (PA), and Joe Manchin (WV).

“It’s Washington, what can I say. There’s nothing surprising. I would hope that we could get the sex trafficking bill, it’s a very important piece of legislation,” Manchin said.

The bill would provide funds to help victims using fees charged to traffickers, set up funding for anti-trafficking law enforcement units and task forces to investigate trafficking offenses, and create a human trafficking advisory council and a cyber-crimes center to assist investigations.

“It’s a bill that has had incredible, substantial bipartisan support and we know that it’s a problem in the country, we know that Democrats and Republicans care about it, and we that we have a bill now that should be able to get passed rather easily,” Casey said.

The original sex trafficking bill had the support of a majority of lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – but many Congressional aides say it’s now doomed. Whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will call up a vote again is to be determined.

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