Kudos to Ohio!

Human-trafficking bill sent to House

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Thursday, December 2, 2010  02:57 AM

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Calling it Ohio’s action to “end modern-day slavery,” the Ohio Senate voted unanimously yesterday to increase punishments for human trafficking. The House is expected to pass the bill next week.

The Senate approved the legislation after some drama. Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, initially pushed to add a major criminal-sentencing overhaul to the bill, but he backed down after a private meeting with his GOP colleagues.

Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, who sponsored the bill with Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, R-Chesterland, said her wake-up call on the issue came in 2005, when the FBI busted a large prostitution ring in Harrisburg, Pa.

Fedor said she was “horrified” to learn that of the 177 girls and women involved, “77 had come from my district, Toledo.” Of those, she said, 38 were younger than 18, and one was 10.

Toledo ranks fourth in the nation in human-trafficking arrests and rescues, she said, trailing only Miami, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore.

“In passing this bill, we will be one step closer to eradicating this atrocity,” she told her colleagues. “The federal government can no longer handle the entire caseload in Ohio.”

If the bill becomes law, Ohio would join 44 other states in making human trafficking a stand-alone felony. It would be a second-degree felony with a maximum eight-year sentence.

The bill also would:

• Make human trafficking an offense of violence.

• Add the definition of human trafficking to the crimes of kidnapping and abduction.

• Make kidnapping based on involuntary servitude a first-degree felony.

• Make it a crime to destroy identification documents with the intent of human trafficking.

• Make compelling prostitution a first-degree felony if the victim is younger than 16.

“It’s hard to believe in 2010 we are standing here talking about human trafficking and involuntary servitude,” Grendell said. But he said he has seen it in his own town, where a raid found a number of women forced to work at a massage parlor.

Grendell said the bill will help law enforcement and prosecutors deal with the various levels of the crime, from the pimps on the street to those behind the scenes creating false documents, transporting young victims and funding the operations.

And it’s not just about prostitution, he said, noting those who are trapped in “substandard labor conditions by those who wish to exploit perhaps their immigration status or other issues.”

There is a “very good possibility” the bill will pass the House next week, said Dave Isaacs, spokesman for Speaker Armond Budish, D-Beachwood. “It’s a priority for the speaker.”

jsiegel@dispatch.com

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