Missoula lawmaker introduces bills to fight human trafficking

Friday, February 10th, 2017
By Holly Michels,  Missoulian

HELENA – People who advertise escort services on websites like Backpage.com and Craigslist would have to provide a copy of their identification as well the identification of the person being shown in a photo advertisement under a bill introduced Wednesday.

Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula, who is carrying House Bill 379, said it strengthens human-trafficking laws passed in the last legislative session.

“The internet provides a primary method for selling children for sex and we can’t just turn a blind eye to it – we can do something.”

The Missoula lawmaker also introduced a second bill, House Bill 378, to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that clarifies it’s illegal to expose a child to prostitution or engage in prostitution in front of a child.

The Department of Justice, which has made fighting human trafficking one of its focuses, released a report last month showing Montana saw a 100 percent jump in human trafficking cases from 2015-2016, and that the number of juvenile victims rescued was up 400 percent. There were 14 cases with three convictions in that time. Dudik said the Interstate 90 corridor through Montana is a circuit used to move children between Seattle and North Dakota.

The websites would have to maintain information collected for seven years. The records would not be available publicly or posted online.

Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, said while he liked the intent of the bill, he was concerned about violating First Amendment rights, saying he worried the bill would create “another government list” and hurt those doing legitimate business.

“I guess if there’s an old man or an old lady that’s actually doing an escort service and it’s legitimate … that person has to be on another list with their date of birth, which is embarrassing,” he said.

Dudik said the list would be maintained by the business and is meant to verify people are who they say they are. She also pointed out the bill did not have a legal review note attached to us and said she’d be open to an amendment requiring a search warrant to access the list.

“We went out of our way to make sure it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s right to speech,” Dudik said.

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