Human trafficking and job subsidies were the focus of bills advanced in the Legislature on Thursday.
Currently, a person who offers someone other than his or her spouse money in exchange for sex can be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to up to a year in jail. Under the proposal by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill, the maximum fine would increase to $10,000, and jail time up to 5 years, if the person being asked for sex is under 18 years old.
Another provision of the bill says that people under 18 could not be charged with prostitution, but instead would be handled in the juvenile court system, which emphasizes rehabilitation, not punishment. McGill said that approach makes sense. "These young women – and men – are wooed, oftentimes. They’re not just taken, like in a movie," she said, although that sometime happens.
McGill cited a case in Papillion where a pimp went to high school football games "looking for vulnerable teenagers to woo and befriend and then to …manipulate them into selling themselves in prostitution. "They are victims," she declared. "They are not young people making this choice, and our law really should not reflect that this is a choice they are willfully making."
The bill also requires an existing task force to recommend how to rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking. It got first round approval on a vote of 25-0.
Senators also gave second-round approval to creating a pilot program to subsidize jobs for low-income people who qualify for welfare. It would use a million dollars a year in federal funds being held in a rainy day fund by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The money would be used to subsidize jobs for about 150 people a year for six months per person. For the first two months, the government would pay 100 percent of the wages; that would decline to 25 percent by the sixth month.
When the measure was first debated Wednesday, Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, its sponsor, asked her fellow lawmakers for support. "I hear people on this floor, in opposition to other bills to help low-income families, say that the best social program is a job. Well, if this is how you feel, then you should support this bill. It is a job – a job with a very temporary government subsidy at the front end," she said.
But Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion said the bill was not the path to success. "Hard work will advance you. Lack of hard work will put you on a government program," he said. "That’s what we’re talking about here – a government program. I assure you anyone that wants to work hard in a state with 3.8 (percent) unemployment will succeed."
The bill got first round approval Wednesday on a vote of 35-1. Nine senators, including Kintner, passed, which has the same effect as a ‘no’ vote. On Thursday, senators gave the bill second-round approval on a voice vote, leaving it needing just one more approval before being sent to the governor.