Human trafficking laws updated

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Senate passed SB 242, my bipartisan measure to strengthen the laws against human trafficking.

It expands expand the definition of human trafficking and imposes stricter sentences, making it punishable by up to 40 years or even life in prison. The bill allows victims to claim restitution and extends responsibility for the crime to people who knowingly patronize a prostitute who is a human trafficking victim. The legislation authorizes the attorney general to create a task force on human trafficking. I'm grateful for the support I received from both sides of the aisle. The fact that it passed the Senate on a 34-to-0 vote proves that members of both political parties realize the seriousness of human trafficking, which is a modern form of slavery. Perpetrators often use threats against family members, blackmail and debt bondage to coerce victims into prostitution.

SB 242 enhances penalties when the victim is a minor. A companion bill, HB 1203, was passed by the House, and the legislation should soon be on the governor's desk for his signature.

The Senate approved legislation that replaces the Arkansas law on methods of executing inmates who have been convicted of capital murder.

SB 237 is a bipartisan bill that sets out procedures to be used by the Correction Department when administering a lethal injection of drugs when executing convicted inmates.

It's a response to a state Supreme Court ruling last year that the existing Methods of Execution Act was unconstitutional. In June the court ruled that the legislature had granted too much authority over the protocol of executions to the Correction Department in violation of the separation of powers provisions of the Constitution.

The court ruled that the legislature had a duty to direct the Correction Department in how to carry out executions. SB 237 does that. The attorney general worked with the Senate sponsor to make sure the bill would withstand a constitutional challenge.

The Senate passed another death penalty bill, SB 52, that expands the rights of the families of murder victims in capital punishment cases. When the convicted murderer is executed, there is a room designated for certain witnesses such as a spiritual advisor, the prison official in charge of medical services and the inmate's attorney. SB 52 guarantees a place in the witness room for an adult family member of the victim.

There are 37 men on Death Row, in the Varner Supermax Unit in Lincoln County. The longest serving inmate was sentenced in October 1989, and the most recent death sentence was in July 2012. When an inmate is scheduled to be executed, he is taken to the nearby Cummins Unit. The most recent execution in Arkansas was in November 2005.

SB 92 repeals the statute of limitations for sex offenses against a minor. Now, prosecutors must file charges before the victim turns 28. SB 92 would put sex crimes against children in the same category as murder, for which there is no statute of limitations.

Also last week, the Senate voted 25-to-9 to prohibit health care exchanges from offering coverage for abortions, except through a separate rider. The restriction is in HB 1100, which has passed the House of Representatives and now goes to the governor. Eighteen other states have passed similar legislation.

Health care exchanges will be created next year when the new federal health care law requires everyone to buy health insurance.

SB 134, which prohibits abortions if the physician is able to detect a heartbeat, was advanced by the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. If enacted it would be one of the most restrictive bans on abortion in the country.

On a 24-to-9 vote the Senate passed SB 131 to exempt the names and zip codes of concealed carry permit holders from Freedom of Information Act requests. The sponsor said the bill would prevent someone with intent to harm from finding out who has a permit to carry firearms, and just as importantly it would keep them from finding out who does not have a permit.

A Senate bill to prohibit Level 3 and 4 sex offenders from being in the swimming areas or children's playgrounds at state parks passed both chambers and is now Act 39 of 2013. A violation would a Class D felony.