Bill Watch: Human Trafficking

UPDATED 3/3/11 2:11 p.m.

Anti-human trafficking advocates returned to the Legislature this year with a new slate of bills, but it appears none that specifically criminalize human trafficking remain viable.

Last year, advocates came close to success. The Hawaii Legislature unanimously passed a measure that criminalized sex-trafficking, but vague wording in the bill caused law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders to line up against the measure. Former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed it.

Hawaii, one of five states that does not have a human trafficking law, clearly has a human trafficking problem. The question is whether a state law is needed to address it.

Federal prosecutors in Honolulu filed the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history in September 2010. The case involved about 400 Thai farm workers who had been forced to work at farms across Hawaii and several mainland states. In a separate case, local farm owners Alec and Mike Sou of Aloun Farms face trial for alleged labor trafficking violations.

Here's a look at the human trafficking-related bills lawmakers have seen. Six bills seek to establish specific human trafficking criminal statutes. All six have stalled in committee and will not make it out of their final committees in time to be filed by 9 p.m. on March 3. It appears none will be viable for the 2011 legislative session.

The only related bills that are alive are the Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro's bill package — House bills 240, 241, and 242 — which propose harsher penalties for prostitution offenses. None of the bills as amended contain the words "human trafficking."

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