Seattle's Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles has dedicated herself to fighting human trafficking and child prostitution. It's a battle she's in for the long haul. So it should come as no surprise that after the legislation she championed last session targeting Backpage.com and other similar Internet sites linked to the exploitation of victimized child prostitutes was shot down in federal court - and specifically by the Federal Communications Decency Act - that she's been back at it this year, sponsoring a handful of bills designed to protect kids getting pimped on the Internet.
Perhaps the most interesting is Senate Bill 5488, which according to the official report on the bill would "Imposes an additional $5,000 fee when a person is convicted of Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor, Promoting Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor, or Promoting Travel for Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor if an Internet advertisement was instrumental in facilitating the offense."
The main reason the effort is intriguing is because - unlike the effort struck down in federal court that specifically targeted Backpage.com and similar Internet sites - SB 5488 shifts the focus to the user, in essence leaving Backpage alone but making the penalties stiffer for those who use the website for nefarious ends.
"It was very unfortunate. Many people wanted to fight it," says Kohl-Welles of last year's Senate Bill 6251, which was passed unanimously but met its demise at the hand of a federal judge. "We've really spent a lot of time trying to come up with a better approach to this. [SB 5488] was just a way we could try to get at the same concern. ... No one has raised a constitutional with this legislation."
Kohl-Welles' SB 5488 was passed unanimously out of the Senate earlier this session and received a "Do Pass" recommendation out of the House Committee on Public Safety last week. Kohl-Welles says she expects the bill to eventually pass out of the House this session.
The real question is: Will a $5,000 fine - on top of existing penalties - really be enough to persuade someone already risking jail time from pimping kids on the Internet? It's a concern that's been raised by those who've spoken against the bill.
"I think money's a strong motivator," says Kohl-Welles, who is also quick to note that such a bill isn't "the whole solution."
As part of the multipronged approach that Kohl-Welles says is vital to battling human trafficking, she says she's considering introducing legislation next year that would decriminalize prostitution for minors - placing the jurisdiction with DSHS instead of the criminal justice system when a minor gets popped.