HELENA — A bill aiming to halt human trafficking in Montana is one vote away from passing through the Legislature.
Senators endorsed House Bill 89 by a vote of 41-9 on Thursday. If it passes third reading, it will go to the governor’s desk for consideration.
“Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, does happen in Montana,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Sheehy Moe of Great Falls. “After illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal activity in the world.”
Moe said no one has opposed the bill, but support for it is vast.
Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula, introduced the measure at the request of Republican state Attorney General Tim Fox. It would update crimes and penalties for people exploiting children involved in the sex trade, adults who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone compelled into forced labor.
The measure would give immunity to child victims, make the past sexual behavior of victims inadmissible in court and allow victims to bring civil action against a trafficker. Victims could also move to have past criminal convictions vacated and would allow prosecutors more latitude in showing a victim was coerced into trafficking. Victims could also get financial help through a crime victim compensation fund.
To that end, traffickers could have their property seized and if convicted, the property could be sold, with the proceeds going to the fund. The bill would also require those convicted of human-trafficking offenses to register similarly to sex offenders and undergo testing to determine the likelihood to reoffend.
In 2013, lawmakers in Montana passed a bill that allowed the creation of posters with a toll-free national hotline to report human trafficking. Five thousand posters have been created and placed throughout the state in gas stations and rest areas, according to representatives with the attorney general’s office.
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