FILE - PA Rob Kauffman 1-14-2020

Pennsylvania state Rep. Rob Kauffman, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, speaks Jan. 14, 2020, during a committee hearing in Harrisburg. Content Exchange

Six bills and a resolution aimed at curtailing human trafficking received unanimous support from members of a Pennsylvania House panel Tuesday. The review coincides with National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which is recognized across the U.S.

The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee advanced the various pieces of legislation during a brief meeting Jan. 14. The panel took testimony from the bills’ authors before giving favorable recommendations to the full House, which will take the legislation up later this month.

“This is a very important issue – a very critical issue,” said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg, who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 2177, authored by state Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny, was one of the more talked about legislative pieces at the committee meeting. It expands the list of sexual offenses requiring counseling programs while sex offenders are incarcerated.

Gaydos, whose district includes the Pittsburgh International Airport, said she was prompted to introduce HB 2177, in part because of the role such venues can have in human trafficking cases.

“This hopefully will reduce recidivism,” Gaydos said of expanding counseling requirements in the state prison system. “Statistics have shown (counseling) reduces recidivism.”

In addition to HB 2177, the full House later this month will take up HB 161, which would reclassify the trafficking of infants as first-degree felony, rather than a first-degree misdemeanor, and HB 2174, which would prohibit defendants from introducing evidence of a human trafficking victim’s past in court cases.

Also on the House docket is HB 2175, a proposal expanding the list of sexual offenses for permissible expert testimony, and HB 2176, which addresses prohibited activities and unlawful conduct with minors.

Additionally, the House will take up HB 2178, which concerns child custody and provides greater considerations for criminal convictions. The final legislation, House Resolution 618, formally recognizes National Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Pennsylvania.

Also discussed in detail was Senate Bill 60, which calls for increasing fines related to convicted cases linked to human trafficking. The House committee laid the legislation on the table, essentially meaning it could be considered at a later date.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, said the bill has received bipartisan support. As she spoke of its intent at the House committee meeting, Phillips-Hill said the goal is modernize state law and sync it up with the realities of human trafficking.

“We need to shut off demand,” Phillips-Hill said. “It’s time we stand with the victims of human trafficking. This legislation is the next step. A lot of input went into this legislation.”

Phillips-Hill said SB 60 was drafted with input from district attorneys across Pennsylvania and reviews of existing state and federal laws.

SB 60 calls for steeper penalties for offenders convicted of human trafficking, including longer prison sentences and fines that could go as high as $100,000 if minors are found to be victimized.

The goal, Phillips-Hill said, is to take “a strong stand to diminish market demand.”

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