February 23, 2021

Bill to increase penalties for human trafficking passes House

A bill to increase the penalties for human trafficking and expand protections to victims of the crime advanced out of the House of Representatives Monday with a nearly unanimous vote.

HB 56 passed 63 to 3 and now heads to the Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque and of the Acoma Pueblo, the bill increases the penalty for human trafficking from a third degree penalty to a second degree penalty for perpetrators if their victims are 18 or older. For human trafficking crimes that involve a victim under the age of 18, the penalty for the perpetrator would be increased to a first degree penalty.

Louis said human trafficking is not limited to one type of victim.

“Anyone can be trafficked,” she said. 

The bill would also classify human trafficking as a serious violent offense which would limit the amount of time an offender can have reduced for good behavior.

The bill amends the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, called SORNA, to include human trafficking, so that a perpetrator would have to register with the state. It also expands the law so that a perpetrator who owns a secondary residence in the state would also be required to register. New York City financier Jeffrey Epstein maintained a second home in New Mexico and, though he was a registered sex offender in Florida, he did not have to register as such in New Mexico.

The bill also expands protections so victims forced into sex work will not be charged with the crime of prostitution or as an accessory to human trafficking.

Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who was one of the three who voted against the bill, said he had some issues with it. He disagreed with a bill provision that the perpetrator would be forced to pay restitution to the victim.

He said there is a victim reparation fund and the victims of human trafficking should be included to have access to that fund instead.

“You will never make these victims whole under these circumstances,” Maestes said. “I’ve been in those courtrooms. There’s no sense of closure or making someone whole and not getting restitution frustrates victims more.”

Maestas said a victim reparation fund can help offset hospital costs. But his main concern was that the bill, if passed, could be used retroactively against offenders who took plea bargains that included not being required to register on the sex registry.

“Retroactivity for sex registration is a big deal. I can’t support it. We have to move forward. It’s unjust. We should definitely consider not doing it,” Maestes said.

The other two House Representatives who voted against it were Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos.