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Phillips-Hill's anti-sex trafficking bill moves to House floor

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill.

The state House will soon vote on legislation by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill aimed at combating sex trafficking.

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the York Township Republican's "Buyer Beware Act," which would broaden the definition of what constitutes sex trafficking and boost penalties, sending it to that chamber's floor for a full vote. 

The bill, which the state Senate unanimously approved in November, was one of seven bills the committee took up on Tuesday, Jan. 14, to curb trafficking. 

“Human trafficking exists in every corner of our state. We need to shut off the demand for these victims,” Phillips-Hill said during the committee hearing. “This bill flips the paradigm so we no longer label victims as prostitutes or treat criminals as someone caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

More:EDITORIAL: Working together to end sex trafficking

More:York-area pimp pleads guilty, is already serving decade in federal prison

The legislation aims to make sex trafficking a first-degree felony. Those charged would include any individual who "solicits, recruits, entices, transports, harbors or advertises the victims of human trafficking into sexual servitude," according to Phillips-Hill.

In 2018, there were 275 cases of human trafficking in Pennsylvania, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 

Perpetrators would also face fines up to $25,000 if victims are 18-years-old or older. If the victim is a minor, fines could reach up to $50,000.

A key aspect of the bill, its supporters say, is that those who engage in a sexual activity with a sex trafficking victim would face a third-degree felony for a first offense. Further offenses would classify as first-degree felonies.

In a report last year, the American Civil Liberties Union voiced concerns with the legislation. It alleged that lawmakers' habit of "bloating" the criminal code with harsher penalties "undermines a person's right to a fair trial and diminishes the power of judges in exchange for more power in the hands of prosecutors."

Phillips-Hill's legislation, however, saw overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and will likely receive similar treatment in the House. The House is expected to vote on all of the bills in the anti-trafficking legislative package Tuesday, Jan. 21, said House Republican Caucus spokesman Mike Straub.

JJ Abbott, Gov. Tom Wolf's spokesman, on Wednesday confirmed the Democratic governor supports the efforts.

"Gov. Wolf supports this bill to bolster the commonwealth’s efforts to combat human trafficking and better support victims of exploitation," Abbott said.

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