An effort to crack down on human trafficking has moved into position for passage, but only after hours of debate in the Unicameral, centering on the issue of immunity.
Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha questioned why a prostitute should be granted immunity under LB 842 without agreeing to cooperate.
“Doesn’t have to cooperate in prosecution, doesn’t have to turn in who their john is or who their trafficker is, there is no such requirement in the bill as drafted,” Harr stated during legislative floor debate.
Another senator suggested the bill provides a “get out of jail free” card to prostitutes, a statement the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, objected to.
“It’s clear that this is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Pansing Brooks told colleagues. “What this is, it’s a way to keep those who are victims from being further victimized.”
Pansing Brooks said the bill is intended to go beyond the traditional law enforcement tact of arresting and charging prostitutes to get to those who are trafficking them. Immunity is given, according to Pansing Brooks, because they are the victims, not the criminals.
The bill has been backed by Attorney General Doug Peterson, a point Pansing Brooks made repeatedly during debate.
Still, opponents raised questions during the second round of debate.
One issue drew considerable scrutiny from legislators. The bill will allow police officers to grant immunity to prostitutes and others who they determine are victims of human trafficking.
Some senators saw that as a dangerous precedent.
Sen. John McCollister of Omaha questioned the provision.
“From what I think I’m hearing, you’re saying that the police officer can grant absolute immunity that can’t be retracted by any other judicial function or person in the process,” McCollister stated during floor debate with Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln.
“No,” Coash replied, but quickly added the legislature gave police officers that power when dealing with juveniles caught in human trafficking. Coash said this will simply extent it to adult cases.
A number of efforts were suggested to address concerns about the bill, but none gathered enough support. The bill moves into final reading nonetheless.