SUBSCRIBE NOW
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.

Phillips-Hill's anti-sex-trafficking legislation heads to Wolf's desk

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Senator Kristen Phillips-Hill and York County District Attorney Dave Sunday join dozens of lawmakers in Harrisburg to detail a package of bills to fight human trafficking,  Wednesday, January 22, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The state House passed anti-sex-trafficking legislation authored by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill with little dissent Wednesday, sending it to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf, who vowed to sign it into law.

The York Township Republican's legislation, which expands the state's definition of trafficking and ramps up penalties on those who commit the crimes, passed the House 183-4 on Wednesday, Jan. 22. 

The bill was a part of a seven-piece legislative package combating sex trafficking — but it was the only measure that received pushback on the House floor. The four "no" votes were from some of the more progressive Democrats in the lower chamber.

"No longer are we going to say that the prostitute is the criminal, because we know they're not," Phillips-Hill said at a news conference before the vote. "We are going to put the penalties and fines on the person that's actually perpetrating the crime."

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

More:YWCA York raises awareness of human trafficking with Red Sand Project

Phillips-Hill's 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.

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.

The American Civil Liberties Union has gone on the record opposing such legislation. 

In a report last year, the organization alleged the practices bloat the state's criminal code and "undermine a person's right to a fair trial and diminishes the power of judges in exchange for more power in the hands of prosecutors."

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, left, and Senator Kristen Phillips-Hill,  join dozens of lawmakers in Harrisburg to detail a package of bills to fight human trafficking,  Wednesday, January 22, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

>>Like what you’re reading? Not a subscriber? Click here for full access to The York Dispatch’s hard-hitting news, local sports and entertainment.

The report also states legislation increasing penalties does nothing to increase public safety, instead contributing to mass incarceration at a time in state history with a record-low crime rate.

The ACLU on Wednesday declined to comment further.

Phillips-Hill dismissed the organization's assertions, saying that the increased penalties would act as a deterrent to make perpetrators "think twice about victimizing a human being."

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, who also spoke at the news conference Wednesday morning, said the ACLU's claims are "completely false."

"I completely disagree with that premise," Sunday said. "The goal is to increase penalties, and not just penalties in regards to incarceration, but fiscal penalties. This is fantastic."

Proponents of Phillips-Hill's efforts say a key aspect of the bill is that it makes engaging in a sexual activity with a sex trafficking victim a third-degree felony for a first offense. Further offenses would classify as first-degree felonies.

The remaining six bills in the anti-sex trafficking package still have to see a vote in the Senate.

Those bills would, among other things, make trafficking infants a felony, expand what defines unlawful contact with a minor and bar defense attorneys from using the sexual history of a victim in court. 

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