LITTLE ROCK — Legislation intended to toughen Arkansas’ human trafficking law and offer new protections to victims passed the Senate on Thursday.
The Senate also approved legislation detailing the procedures the state is to use in carrying out executions, as well as a measure that would remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse charges.
Senate Bill 242 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, would expand the definition of human trafficking and make it a Class Y felony, punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison. Human trafficking is currently a Class A felony, punishable by six to 30 years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.
The bill also would allow victims to collect restitution; make it a felony for a person to knowingly patronize a prostitute who is a human trafficking victim; allow a person accused of prostitution to claim as a defense that the prostitution was the result of being a victim of human trafficking; and allow the attorney general to create a task force on human trafficking.
"This is modern day slavery," Irvin said while discussing her bill on the Senate floor.
Irvin praised Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, a co-sponsor of SB242, who has been working to toughen the state’s human trafficking laws since the 2005 session. She said the legislation took a year to develop with help from the state attorney general’s office and the Polaris Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group working to curb human trafficking in the United States.
"It’s been a comprehensive approach and we’re just very, very proud to see this bill come before you today," Irvin said.
SB 242 passed 34-0 and now goes to the House. A mirror bill by Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, cleared a House committee Tuesday.
With no discussion, the Senate passed, 33-0, Senate bill 237 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, which details the procedures the state Department of Correction must follow and the drugs that must be used to execute an inmate on death row.
The measure is intended to address a state Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down the state’s lethal injection law. The court said the statute gave the state prison director too much authority to select the drugs used in executions and that setting the type and quantity of drugs used in the process was the Legislature’s constitutional responsibility.
Executions have been on hold in Arkansas since the court ruling. Thirty-seven inmates are on death row, including eight who have exhausted all appeals. The state has not put a condemned prisoner to death since 2005.
House Bill 1013 by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, calls for the creation of a new veterans home to replace the one that closed in Little Rock after it failed building and health code inspections. It passed the Senate 34-0 and goes back to the House for concurrence in a Senate amendment.
SB 92 by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, passed the Senate 34-0 and goes to the House. It would eliminate the age limit for victims of child abuse to speak up and accuse their abusers in court. Currently, victims must speak up by the age of 28.
In the House, members approved SB 107 by Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, in a 95-0 vote. The bill would allow firefighters and emergency medical technicians to operate all-terrain vehicles on public roads and highways.
The bill goes to the governor.