U.S. Senate Brings Human Trafficking Bill to a Standstill after House Approval

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The Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, House Resolution 2283, passed by voice vote in the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support last Wednesday, July 23. The Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 1249, had already been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where committee leaders Sens. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and Bob Corker, R-TN, decided to put the bill aside for the time being.

The Richmond Justice Initiative, a non-profit, faith-based organization whose mission is to advocate, educate and raise human trafficking awareness in Virginia, celebrated the passage of the bill in the House along with the national attention the issue has received.

“The Richmond Justice Initiative is celebrating the passage of HR 2283 in the House. We are excited and encouraged to see Congress making the end of modern day slavery a priority,” stated Alicia Cundiff, RJI’s advocacy manager. “Thanks to the hard work of community advocates across the country, including hundreds of Virginians, our voices were heard and Congress listened.” 

Rep. Christopher Smith, R-NJ, introduced the bill on June 6, 2013. The bill is meant “to prioritize the fight against human trafficking within the Department of State according to congressional intent in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 without increasing the size of the federal government.”

The bill would make the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons a bureau within the Department of State through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. The Office would then be referred to as the Bureau to Combat Trafficking in Persons. HR 2283 would also limit how many officials can hold the title of Assistant Secretary within the State Department. The bill does not call for any additional funding.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons under the State Department in 2000. The purpose of the Office is to assist the Secretary of State in governmental efforts to address both domestic and international trafficking. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons produces an annual “Trafficking in Persons Report,” which the legislation states is Congress’ principal resource for human trafficking information worldwide.

HR 2283 had 111 co-sponsors in the House, which comprised of 60 Republicans and 51 Democrats. Co-sponsors from Virginia include Reps. Rob Wittman, R-1st District, Robert Hurt, R-5th District, Morgan Griffith, R-9th District and Frank Wolf, R-10th District.

Cundiff stated that the Senate counterpart bill has also received bipartisan support with 35 co-sponsors, five of which are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Cundiff noted that Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine is among the co-sponsors on the committee.

An exact date of when the bill will be considered in the Senate is unknown at this point. Cundiff, as well as other advocates and supporters, hope the Senate will vote on the bill before the end of the year.

“It’s our strong hope that the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act will be included in bill movement and passage before this session of Congress comes to an end in December,” Cundiff stated.

RJI will continue to advocate for this bill in hopes that the committee leadership will decide to move the bill forward.

“We pray and will advocate for Sens. Menendez and Corker to be sufficiently stirred in response to the moral urgency, policy benefits and overwhelming will of the people (and the House of Representatives) behind this small but powerful bill,” Cundiff stated.

Shelby Mertens

About Shelby Mertens

Shelby Mertens is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Mass Communications - Journalism. She was the arts and culture editor of The Commonwealth Times, VCU's independent student press. Shelby was a blogging and social media intern for Gandzee, an online retail startup in Richmond. She covered the General Assembly session last spring for Capital News Service on behalf of over 70 news publications across the state. She has also published work on WTVR-CBS 6's website, a part of the iPadJournos project at VCU.