Byline: Cristina Marcos
The House on Monday passed a package of legislation to combat human trafficking.
Many of the bills passed in the last Congress but didn't get votes in the Senate. Members debated and passed the legislation by voice vote Monday afternoon, despite the cancellation of House votes originally scheduled for 6:30 p.m. due to the snowstorm over the D.C. region and Northeast.
One of the bills passed by voice vote, H.R. 515, would require the Department of Homeland Security to notify foreign countries when a registered sex offender travels abroad. It would further formally request notification from foreign governments when a known child sex offender is trying to enter the U.S.
"It's important to encourage foreign governments around the world to devote their respective resources toward combating this issue," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
"Operation Angel Watch," a program within the Department of Homeland Security’s Child Exploitation Investigations Center, already determines whether countries should be apprised of sex offenders' travel. But the bill would codify the program's activities and formally establish it as the "Angel Watch Center."
"This bill solidifies the Angel Watch Center as an important part of the U.S. response to child sex tourism," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).
Another measure passed by voice vote, H.R. 468, would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to use grants for training staff on the effects of human trafficking among runaway and homeless children.
Lawmakers noted that runaway and homeless youth often become victims of human trafficking.
"We know that trafficking and youth homelessness are often affecting the same populations. Young people that have run away or are homeless are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking," said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
In addition to HHS, State Department employees would receive training on human trafficking under a separate bill passed by voice vote, H.R. 357.
Roll call votes on two bills will wait until Tuesday afternoon. One measure, H.R. 469, would establish additional reporting requirements for state child welfare systems, while the other, H.R. 246, would amend existing law to replace the term "child prostitution" with "child sex trafficking, including child prostitution," in reporting categories for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Both bills passed the House last year.
Six more measures are slated for consideration on Tuesday. One of the bills, H.R. 285, would impose a penalty for knowingly selling advertisements that offer certain commercial sex acts.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) lamented what he perceives as relatively little attention toward the issue. He blasted the media for giving more coverage to "Deflate-gate" than human trafficking.
"The public seems to be a little more concerned about other matters than the issue of trafficking. At least the media does. They spend a lot of time talking about how much air is in footballs, when we probably should be dealing with how much criminal activity is taking place in America, where America's children are being kidnapped and put into slavery," Poe said.