Lawmakers put focus on veterans, human trafficking

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With a fast start to this year’s legislative session, there has been little time for me to pursue as many ideas for legislation, as I had hoped to do. This is due, in large part, to my sitting on the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee which started hearing budget projections and revenue assessments on our second day, and has not slowed down since.

In addition to once again carrying 7-10 appropriation bills, it was my goal this session to sponsor legislation that strengthened Idaho’s commitment to its veterans, and to sponsor legislation that improved our laws against human trafficking. As I investigated different avenues to assist our veterans, I discovered that two other legislators were working on similar legislation. Not wanting to repeat any efforts, I provided all the information I had to one of these legislators, and am excited to support the results of their work once it becomes a bill.

As I began preparing human trafficking legislation, I had another legislator approach me with an idea that he had come across. It was a two-pronged approach to strengthen Idaho’s ability to curtail the act of, and punish those involved in, human trafficking. He asked if I would be interested in co-sponsoring the legislation with him, and we began to work on a draft.

My first year in office I had the honor of working with a young lady from Bonner County to improve Idaho’s stand against human trafficking. The legislation we brought was somewhat innocuous, but, was appreciated by victim’s advocates as a step in the right direction for our state. This experience provided me with insight into a world that I had very little knowledge of, and one that I was deeply troubled to find existed in our state.

Our interstate highways, and pockets of population large enough to support this activity, make us a prime stopping point as trafficker pass from west to east. In Boise alone, there are approximately 3000 offers for prostitutes on a website used by traffickers. Not all these offers are the result of trafficking, but many are. Repeated contact with victim’s advocate groups across the Northwest continued to impress upon me the need to sustain our efforts to limit the opportunities of human traffickers in Idaho.

The first piece of legislation we are proposing is a simple rewrite of an existing statute. Idaho Code 18-5601 states: “Any person who imports persons into this state, or who exports persons from this state, for the purposes of prostitution … shall be guilty of a felony.” While this statute is a strong approach, the problem is that if a person is trafficking a single individual, they are essentially not committing a crime. Our legislation simply changes “persons” to “another person” in order to broaden the scope of what is forbidden, and to leave little room for a nuanced defense of someone trafficking another person.

Our second piece of legislation is a bit more controversial. Idaho Code 18-5614 deals with the patronization of a prostitute. At this point, an individual’s first two convictions of patronization are misdemeanors, with the third conviction being a felony. In an effort to discourage the demand side of human trafficking, our proposal would make the initial conviction of patronizing a prostitute a felony. We have already encountered some resistance to the idea, but our bill seemed to have enough merit for the House Judiciary Committee to agree to print it. Many other states have similar laws, and two Scandinavian countries have found their human trafficking rates have decreased after they increased the penalties associated with prostitution, which shows the usefulness of such an approach. This piece of legislation will be far more difficult to pass, but it is an essential part of our fight to protect human trafficking victims.

Rep. Sage G. Dixon represents District 1B, covering Bonner and Boundary counties.

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