Assembly and Senate Committees Advance “Safe Harbor Legislation” to Protect Victims of Child Sexual Exploitation
Now for some much needed good news on the state policy front!
Last week, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety passed important legislation that would ensure that a person under the age of 18 could not be prosecuted for committing an act of prostitution. This is an important step to improving Wisconsin’s approach to child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as it reflects the widely held belief that criminally charging minors exploited by sex trafficking and child prostitution is not only immoral, but also does nothing to address the dynamics that make such children vulnerable to further victimization.
The bill, SB 344/AB 186, would help bring Wisconsin law in line with the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which treats prostituted minors as victims of sexual exploitation instead of as juvenile delinquents, and would also align Wisconsin with the wide consensus of advocacy groups that believe exploited children should always be treated as victims. Laws similar to SB 344/AB 186 have been enacted in a majority of states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and California. These state laws are heralded as model legislation that many organizations with expertise on child sexual exploitation prevention believe Wisconsin should emulate.
The Assembly Committee on Children and Families already unanimously approved AB 186 in December. As a result, both SB 344 and AB 186 are available to be scheduled for floor votes in both the Senate and Assembly. With the legislative session quickly racing to an end, we hope that this important legislation receives the votes it deserves so that it can become law.
The Assembly Committee on Local Government has scheduled a committee vote for this Tuesday on AB 748, which would prohibit local governments from enacting or enforcing a wide range of important labor and employment policies that are important for increasing wages and improving the working conditions of employees. The Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform already passed the Senate version (SB 634) of the bill on a party line vote. Many of these policies, such as living wage ordinances and efforts to promote collective bargaining rights, are particularly important for lower- and moderate-income professions in which women are often disproportionately employed.
It does appear that one of the more odious provisions of the bill, which would have removed the ability of local governments from enacting or enforcing local anti-discrimination policies (such as the City of Madison’s longstanding equal opportunities ordinance), is likely to be removed from the bill via an amendment from the Assembly author due to the significant negative attention that provision has received. However, it also appears that the other six provisions of the bill will remain intact for now, all of which are incredibly problematic, as they will greatly reduce the ability of local governments to increase wages, fight the gender wage gap, and improve working conditions for people in their communities.
If the bill is approved by the Assembly Committee, it will then be available to be scheduled for a vote before the full Assembly. We are concerned that such a vote will be scheduled as early as this week.
For more information on this troubling legislation, please see our policy page on economic security issues. Finally, if you haven’t done so already, please take a moment to contact your state legislators and tell them to oppose this bill. This legislation is making quick progress through the legislative process and it is essential that anyone who cares about stopping it take the time to share their opinions with their legislators as soon as possible.
Sara Finger, Executive Director