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Bill proposes tougher penalties for sex trafficking

Prosecutors say convicting sex traffickers is difficult for several reasons, including the complexity of gathering sufficient evidence, finding victims, and getting victims to collaborate with police and ultimately testify.

HF613 aims to give prosecutors more tools to do their jobs and get more sex traffickers, and those who buy sex, to pay for their crimes. It would also toughen penalties for people convicted of sex crimes.

Public safety committee hears bill proposing tougher penalties for sex trafficking 02/19/21

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors the legislation that was held over Friday by the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF765, sponsored by Sen. Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall pointed to “a very simple fix” in the bill that would greatly help prosecution of sex trafficking. Reclassifying first-degree sex trafficking as a violent crime in Minnesota law, she said, would allow judges to give out longer prison sentences.

Kendall serves on the Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, which she said has obtained convictions for 15 sex traffickers, 10 child solicitation offenders, and 74 sex buyers in central Minnesota since it was founded three years ago.

Such task forces greatly increase the ability of law enforcement to fight sex trafficking, she said, due to complex cases requiring coordinated efforts to gather evidence such as hotel receipts, cell phone records, and surveillance recordings.

“We cannot count on our victims to be carrying the weight of proof at trials,” she said.

What’s in the bill

  • All first offenses for buying sex from a prostitute would be a gross misdemeanor; under current law the transaction is only a gross misdemeanor if it occurs in public.
  • A felony offense would be created for being a repeat patron of a prostitute within 10 years of a first conviction.
  • The maximum sentence of imprisonment for first-degree sex trafficking would increase from 20 years to 25 years.
  • The maximum sentence of imprisonment for second-degree sex trafficking would increase from 15 years to 20 years.
  • The maximum sentence of imprisonment for solicitation of children to engage in sexual conduct, or electronic solicitation of children, would increase from three years to five years, and the maximum fine would be increased from $5,000 to $10,000.
  • The bill would create a gross misdemeanor offense for trespassing on the grounds of a facility that provides emergency shelter services for sex trafficking victims or transitional housing to sex trafficking victims and their children.

Other House sex trafficking bills

The committee held over for possible omnibus bill inclusion two other bills dealing with sex trafficking crimes.

The Pinto-sponsored HF946, as amended, would create a statewide sex trafficking investigation coordinator. The companion, SF1140, also sponsored by Anderson, awaits action in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

HF698, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Mueller (R-Austin), would require law enforcement agencies to adopt policies for human sex trafficking investigation case. The companion, SF820, is sponsored by Sen. Gene Dornink (R-Hayfield) and also awaits action by the Senate judiciary committee.


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