Iowa lawmakers confident of human trafficking legislation despite different approaches

“We need to address this this year”

James Q. Lynch
Published: March 6 2014 | 11:35 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:14 am in

Bills to tighten Iowa laws on human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors are on lawmakers’ “need to do” list, but first they’ll have to work out differences in how they treat pimps, johns and their victims.

A House subcommittee approved Senate File 2311, which deals with trafficking and enticing or sexually exploiting a minor for prostitution, but floor manager Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Melcher-Dallas, said he plans to improve it with language from House File 2309, a similar bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

In both versions, lawmakers give county attorneys discretion to treat the minors who are victims of human trafficking and prostitution by referring them to the Department of Human Services to as Children in Need of Assistance rather than prosecute them. Heartsill prefers the House version that tells county attorneys that option is available if “reasonable grounds” exist to believe the victim was under the “influence or control” of an adult. The Senate version makes no reference to being under the “influence or control” of an adult.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, prefers giving county attorney more discretion while Heartsill thinks guidance would be helpful.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office told lawmakers that a $250 surcharge on human trafficking fines would help train law enforcement to recognize human trafficking.

Mike Ferjak, human trafficking investigator for the attorney general, told the subcommittee that within the past 24 hours two Iowa State Patrol troopers had handled human trafficking cases they say they wouldn’t have recognized without training they received last month.

“There would be more cases if we had more training,” he said.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, hoped the Legislature would be willing “to put its money where its mouth is” and provide the needed training funds.

Heartsill also wants to add language that the criminal offense of enticing a minor are not limited to personal contact, but extends to any form of electronic communication.

The House version also would extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting human trafficking from three years to 10 years or, three years beyond the identification of a perpetrator through DNA.

Despite the differences, “Everyone agrees we’ll get something done,” Dvorsky said.

“We need to address this this year,” Heartsill said.

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