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Published: Thursday, 12/9/2010

Ohio House bill creates felony charge of human trafficking

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House brought its lame-duck session to an end Wednesday night, but not before sending a bill to crack down on modern-day slavery within Ohio's borders to Gov. Ted Strickland.

The House unanimously approved Senate Bill 235 without amendment in order to get the measure to the governor's desk before lawmakers went home.

"In Hamilton County, an 11-year-old girl was arrested and placed on probation for prostitution," Rep. Kathleen Chandler (D., Kent) said. "This is unreal and demonstrates the need for greater understanding for the crime of human trafficking ... What is most shocking about these cases is that a child can even be thought of as a prostitute."

"A child cannot be a prostitute. A child is a victim of sex abuse," she said. "It is rape in its most vicious form."

Although House Speaker Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) has yet to officially gavel the 2009-10 session to an end, he said Wednesday that members will not return to Columbus for more votes.

That move allows Mr. Budish to avoid full chamber votes on a pair of other bills that would ease restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms in Ohio. A rare bipartisan vote on discharge petitions Wednesday forced the bills out of committee and onto the House floor.

The end of session also means that time ran out on another bill to replace Ohio's statue of Gov. William Allen in the National Statuary Hall in Washington with another of Milan native Thomas Edison.

The trafficking bill, sponsored by Sens. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) and Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), creates the stand-alone, second-degree felony of "trafficking in persons," a crime carrying a potential prison sentence of eight years.

Ohio's current law is limited to a human-trafficking specification that, although never used, would increase penalties when attached to related crimes like kidnapping and compelling prostitution.

"Human trafficking takes away the most fundamental of human rights," Ms. Chandler said. "This is the most humiliating, degrading, and vicious form of slavery that one could imagine."

Ohio would become the 45th state to enact a stand-alone trafficking crime.

Ohio's current trafficking specification applies only to sex-related crimes, the new stand-alone felony would apply to sex crimes and "involuntary servitude." This acknowledges that trafficking occurs not only on street corners but also in homes, on farms, and in sweatshops.

The bill would take effect 90 days after Mr. Strickland signs it. It defines human trafficking as the act or attempt to "recruit, lure, entice, isolate, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain" another person, knowing that the victim will be forced into labor, prostitution, or pornography.

In other action, the House, without debate, approved the two resolutions to force a pair of bills easing restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms in Ohio out of committee and on onto the House floor. A handful of Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the petitions, which passed by votes of 56-37 and 55-39. That indicates that the bills, which had already passed the Senate, would likely have passed if brought to full chamber votes.

One would lift Ohio's probation on concealed-carry permit holders carrying firearms into bars, restaurants, or open-air arenas with liquor licenses. The second would bring Ohio's more restrictive gun laws into compliance with federal law and court rulings, allowing those convicted of some minor drug offenses to qualify for concealed-carry licenses.

Although the Democratic-controlled House has gone home, the Republican-controlled Senate plans to return at least one more day in order to reject certain appointments made by Mr. Strickland so that Governor-elect John Kasich will have the opportunity to fill the posts. Among them are the members of the new Ohio Casino Control Commission.

Both chambers will be controlled by Republicans next session.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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