Committee OKs sex trafficking bill | NevadaAppeal.com
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Committee OKs sex trafficking bill

Matt Woolbright
The Associated Press
Kevin Clifford / Associated Press
AP | FR159396 AP

A major anti-sex trafficking bill has just one more hurdle to clear before heading to the governor’s desk.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced Assembly Bill 67 on Wednesday to the Senate floor where it awaits a full vote.

The Legislature adjourns Monday.

“It will be a landmark bill in our fight against human trafficking,” said Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, one of the lead lawmakers behind several anti-sex trafficking bills this session.

This bill defines sex trafficking, stiffens criminal penalties, provides tools for victims and law enforcement officers and includes customers of trafficked persons in the same criminal class as the traffickers in some cases.

“This is the first step for me — addressing the law enforcement piece of it — we still have more issues to deal with,” said Nevada Attorney General Catherine Masto, the bill’s lead proponent.

In future sessions, bills will focus on increasing the awareness of the problem and setting the funding and staffing for victims’ services centers, Masto added.

Lawmakers and lobbyists have tweaked several portions of the bill since it was introduced early in the session, but “the original intent is still there,” Masto said.

One significant change was removing a provision that allowed the prosecutor to force a preliminary hearing in an effort to get victims’ testimony on record before traffickers can intimidate them into not testifying. Currently, the defendant can waive that hearing — a practice law enforcement said is often done to allow time for the defendant’s associates to dissuade victims from testifying.

The compromise was allowing law enforcement to videotape a victim’s testimony early in the process and use it in court only if the victim cannot or will not testify in person at the main court hearings.

Both Masto and Hambrick said the product heading to the Senate floor is the result of proponents and opponents coming together and reaching a compromise acceptable to all sides.

“Law enforcement and victims will have better resources and better opportunities to seek justice,” Hambrick said. “The community at large — once they realize the full extent of the law — will be very pleased with what people in this building are doing for them.”

A bill that creates a victims’ fund, and a few other companion bills aimed at fueling the fight against human trafficking in Nevada are expected to be voted on before the session ends.