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Mass. Senate OKs measure to curb human trafficking

By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service / July 1, 2011

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The state Senate unanimously passed a bill to crack down on human trafficking yesterday, approving legislation that differs significantly from a House proposal and putting Massachusetts closer to adopting new tools to deal with horrific sex- and labor-trafficking cases.

The Senate bill would increase the mandatory minimum sentences for human trafficking from 15 to 20 years, add new criminal penalties for organ trafficking, and impose fines up to $1 million on businesses found engaging in human trafficking.

Senator Mark C. Montigny, the lead sponsor of the bill, said he was pleased to see the legislation advance “after years of frustration and pessimism.’’ He said he was confident it will become law.

Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, has filed the bill for the past six years. It has passed in the Senate before, but never made it through both branches. Senators said it will probably go to a six-member House-Senate conference committee, which would be charged with producing a single bill.

“I really think for the first time both branches are determined to get this done,’’ said Montigny. “I feel very strongly we won’t have a break down in conference.’’

In June, the House unanimously passed a bill to give prosecutors new tools to target prostitution and forced labor networks. Attorney General Martha Coakley applauded passage of the bill, saying, “Today’s vote is another major step toward ending the exploitation of victims for sexual servitude and labor in our Commonwealth.’’

During debate in the Senate yesterday, Montigny said he felt sad for the victims of human trafficking that it is taking so long to pass a bill. He said it is time for Massachusetts residents to realize that human trafficking occurs in this state so more people can be vigilant about stopping it.

“We need to convince people in every neighborhood of this Commonwealth that this is going on,’’ Montigny said. “Some of the most horrendous cases have been in wealthy suburbs.’’

The Senate adopted an amendment to impose a $1,000 fine on so-called Johns convicted of a first-time offense.

Both versions of the bill include provisions that would allow juveniles under 18 to avoid prosecution in certain cases if a judge determines they were victimized by trafficking.