- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - One of three bills regarding human trafficking passed the South Dakota House Judiciary Committee on Friday, a measure that would help victims sue their perpetrators.

The two rejected measures doubled efforts already in place, lawmakers said, one requiring the state to make a plan to assist victims and educate the public and the other allowing the state courts to clear convictions committed as a result of trafficking, such as prostitution.

“Each one is as crucially important as the next,” said Rep. Jenna Haggar, the sponsor of all three bills, “and they tackle different perspectives on the bigger statewide issue of human trafficking.”

But the Sioux Falls Republican was successful only with the one that helps victims form a civil case and file for damages against their trafficker. Haggar said she was disappointed with the results.

“We need to start helping them before they’re prosecuted,” she said.

Several groups spoke in support of all three bills, including the South Dakota Family Policy Council and Concerned Women for America.

“It’s a form of slavery. It’s force, fraud or coercion,” said Mark Chase of the Family Policy Council. “It can’t be happening in our state, but it is. It’s happening.”

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, spoke in support of the legislation. He gave examples of several human trafficking arrests that took place at last year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The panel voted 8-4 to kill a bill that would have helped victims to clear their records of crimes committed while they were trafficked. Joezy Guest, a victim of human trafficking, testified Friday about this topic.

“If you look at my record it’s not pretty,” Guest said. She spoke of using drugs to numb the pain of her experience and spent 7 months in jail for her crimes. She said criminal records make it hard for victims to get safe and affordable housing and good jobs.

Opponents said there are other policies in place to pardon these victims already. Paul Bachand of the State’s Attorneys Association said prosecutors have no interest in charging victims with crimes.

The state Department of Social Services stood as the only opponent to Haggar’s victim services and education bill, in which the department would have had to collect and report human trafficking data in the state, as well as train law enforcement and create a public awareness campaign.

Deputy Secretary Lynne Valenti said South Dakota already does or would be able to provide the services outlined without legislation.

“We don’t need a law to tell us to do what we are already doing,” Valenti said, noting they added a page to their website on trafficking since learning of the bill.

Several committee members agreed with Valenti, saying they didn’t want redundant statutes, and voted 10-2 against the measure.

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