Legislature passes bills on human trafficking

OLYMPIA — The House and Senate both passed bills Wednesday aimed at stopping human trafficking in Washington state.

Under House Bill 2644, coercion of involuntary servitude would be made a crime. It would be illegal, under the measure, to coerce someone to perform labor or services by withholding or threatening to withhold or destroy someone’s immigration documents. In addition, threatening to tell law enforcement officials that someone is in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws as part of coercion would also be a crime.

After initially voting to pass the bill 94-4, the House reconsidered the vote and then passed it 87-10.

“Involuntary servitude is essentially slavery,” said Rep. Cindy Ryu, prime sponsor of the bill. The Democrat from Shoreline added that passing the bill would create a new way to prosecute the people involved.

The Senate unanimously passed its own version of the coercion bill Wednesday night. Senate Bill 6339 was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser, of Olympia. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that it was a “bipartisan approach to fight the scourge of human trafficking.”

House Bill 1791, which passed unanimously Wednesday, would add the offense of trafficking in the first degree under the umbrella of sex offenses.

Trafficking in the first degree would be a sex offense, under the measure, if force, fraud, or coercion is used to cause someone to engage in a sexually explicit act or a commercial sex act. It would also apply if a person under 18 is made to engage in a sexually explicit or commercial sex act. The felony charge could be used in trafficking prostitution cases.

The measure would also require traffickers convicted of this offense to register as sex offenders.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate will have to determine which coercion measure moves forward, while House Bill 1791 will head to the Senate for consideration.

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Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.

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