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State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill's legislation to increase penalties related to sex trafficking unanimously cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, with some Democrats ready to vote affirmatively when it hits the floor.

The York Township Republican's legislation, dubbed the Buyer Beware Act, was introduced in January and includes doubling the maximum jail time for human traffickers and those who solicit human trafficking victims.

"Ultimately what this bill is about is reducing demand (for sex trafficking)," Phillips-Hill said. "We don't want to further victimize victims. We want to protect victims."

More: York legislators' proposal would double jail time for human traffickers and their patrons

The bill has 25 co-sponsors —  including 10 Democrats — and Phillips-Hill said she is confident it could pass the chamber if it reaches the floor in July after budget season comes to a close.

If passed, the legislation would make sex trafficking a first-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. That's double the 10-year maximum that comes with its second-degree classification.

The definition of trafficking would also be broadened to include the patronization or advertising of a trafficking victim, mirroring federal law. Anyone who "should have known" or "recklessly disregarded" the fact they're engaging with a sex trafficking victim would be included.

Additionally, those found guilty of trafficking would see their fines doubled. Violators could be slapped with up to a $30,000 fine, or up to $100,000 if the victim is a minor.

"It passed committee with unanimous support, so I'd say there's no reason to expect it to have problems in our caucus," said Senate Democratic Caucus spokeswoman Brittany Crampsie.

Pennsylvania passed comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in 2014, but victim advocates and researchers have said it doesn't go far enough.

Since then, there have been at least 33 convictions across the state, according to the Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation at Villanova University's Charles Widger School of Law.

Twenty-six cases were withdrawn, and 14 additional cases transitioned from state to federal court.

Generally, victims are much more likely to also be charged with a crime. In 2017, for example, there were 1,443 people charged with prostitution but only 447 charges of buying sex across the state, according to the institute.

Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, has a companion bill in the House that remains in the Judiciary Committee. More than 60 lawmakers have signed on, including Democrats.

Grove didn't immediately respond to inquiries for comment.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.                 

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