Friday, October 28, 2011 –
A day after a Republican senator broke with decorum and criticized colleagues for prolonged negotiations on a bill cracking down on human trafficking, the Senate’s point-person on the issue said a deal is within reach and could be sealed within three weeks, when the Legislature is scheduled to recess until January.
“No one has been more determined and more impatient than I to see this passed,” said Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford). “I think it’s been ironic that some of the loudest voices lately have not been at the forefront of trying to get this done … I would much rather now, as opposed to appeasing a few Johnny-come-latelys, I would much rather have an excellent bill than a good bill.”
Montigny is the Senate’s lead negotiator on the matter, working behind closed doors with the House’s lead negotiator, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), and four other conferees to forge a consensus on competing proposals on the matter. The bill has been locked in negotiations for 105 days.
Senate President Therese Murray said she spoke with members of the conference committee and expressed optimism that the bill could get done before lawmakers leave on Nov. 16.
“They’ve advised me that they’re both working together very well,” Murray said. “They’re going to have a full committee hearing shortly and we hope to have the bill before we leave.”
The bills establishes the crimes of trafficking persons for sexual servitude and trafficking persons for forced services, each which would carry a potential 15-year sentence. Traffickers of children could face life in prison. The Senate bill added penalties for organ trafficking, proposed fines of up to $1 million on businesses found to engage in human trafficking, and added state-funded social services for victims of sex trafficking or forced labor. The House bill would authorize $10,000 fines for those convicted of soliciting sex from a minor.
Montigny has been pushing similar proposals for six years, but while his efforts languished, other states began implementing laws to punish human trafficking and provide more tools for law enforcement. Massachusetts is now one of four states without a comprehensive trafficking law, supporters say.
“I don’t know of any category of criminal that needs long-term or lifetime incarceration more than a trafficker of children. So the key here is not just ensuring that they spend the rest of their life or some very significant time behind bars … The problem doesn’t go away when you put them in jail,” he said. “The much more difficult part is the long-term saving of the victim, who is for the most part an abused victim or an abused child.”
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), one of the six members of the conference committee, disseminated a letter calling on Montigny and O’Flaherty to convene a meeting “as soon as possible so that we can work towards a favorable resolution without any further delay.”
“Several months have elapsed since both the House and Senate unanimously endorsed their respective proposals and appointed a Conference Committee to work out the differences between the two bills,” Tarr wrote. “While I understand the importance of proceeding in a deliberative manner when considering legislation of this magnitude, I am concerned that with each passing day that goes by without a resolution, we are effectively denying justice to the victims of human trafficking who are relying on us to help end this terrible scourge.”
The letter rankled lawmakers and staff members who are accustomed to private negotiations.
“While the internal workings of the conference committee are confidential, it should be noted that House and Senate staffers recognize the importance of the issues before them and have been meeting and communicating regularly over the past eight weeks to address the remaining differences between the House and Senate’s human trafficking legislation,” an aide to Rep. O’Flaherty told the News Service.
In August, Attorney General Martha Coakley also pleaded with lawmakers for “swift passage” of a trafficking bill.
The House passed its version of the human trafficking bill on June 6, and the Senate endorsed its own version on June 30. In addition to Montigny, O’Flaherty and Tarr, Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain), Sheila Harrington (R-Groton) and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) were named as negotiators in July.