Top liberal lawmakers, including Senate President Justin L. Alfond (D-Portland), House Speaker Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick) and Senate Majority Leader Troy D. Jackson (D-Aroostook), have refused to explain why Democrats on the Legislative Council voted against a bill to help victims of human sex trafficking.
Maine’s old guard newspapers, despite previously covering the bill, are now refusing to ask questions.
The controversy began on Wednesday, when the Democrat-controlled Legislative Council voted 6-4 on party lines to kill a bill from Rep. Amy F. Volk (R-Scarborough).
Volk had worked on the bill with the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking. She said she was inspired to do something after a report by the organization ranked Maine in the bottom half of states for anti-trafficking laws.
The bill would have enabled courts to vacate prostitution charges from the criminal records of victims of sex trafficking. The protection, which is nearly identical to laws 14 other states have, is based on the rationale that the stigma of a prostitution conviction should not dog victims of sex trafficking for the rest of their lives when they had little to no control over their actions.
The Maine Wire reached out to Democratic members of the Executive Council by email, including Senate Assistant Majority Leader Anne M. Haskell (D-Portland), and House Majority Leader Seth A. Berry (D-Bowdoinham), and left additional phone messages with President Alfond, House Speaker Eves, and Majority Leader Jackson. Additional attempts at contact were made via staffers.
None of the Democrats returned emails or calls. None offered any explanation as to why they would vote against an uncontroversial bill to help victims of human sex trafficking.
Maine’s old guard media – the Bangor Daily News, MaineToday Media and Maine Public Broadcasting Network – have remained silent on the matter. Although each of those outlets covered Volk’s bill when it was introduced, none have reported on the Democrats’ shocking decision to kill it before it even gets a chance at debate in the Legislature.
At least one liberal interest group has similarly refused to comment.
The Maine League of Women Voters has said it will not be advocating on behalf of victims of human trafficking. In an email to the House GOP Office, League Advocacy Chair Ann Luther said, “I’m sure all of us share Rep. Volk’s concern for human trafficking, but this in not an issue that we follow at the League of Women Voters.”
Penny Morrell, Maine State Director for Concerned Women of America, said sex trafficking is an issue her group is focused on.
“This bill seems like a very good idea and we should do everything we can to make it happen,” said Morrell. “We must not wait and delay it’s implementation, because if we can protect even one woman right now, it is worth the effort.”
“These victims have endured horrific tragedy and deserve our care, compassion and relief,” she said.
Morrell said research has shown that human trafficking is bigger problem than most believe, especially along the I-95 corridor.“It’s a big problem in Maine, and I don’t think the average citizen is aware of it,” she said.
“But these lawmakers must know,” she said. “This is the kind of liberal progressive legislation the Democrats claim to support, so why didn’t they?”
Susan Dench, founder and president of the Informed Women’s Network, called the Democrats’ actions mind-boggling.
“Alfond, Eves and their Democrat pals continue to wage war on – and against – women,” she said. “It boggles the mind to think that they would leave defenseless female victims of human trafficking grappling with rebuilding their lives while supporting comparatively frivolous bills.”
Rep. Volk has said she intends to appeal the Legislative Council’s decision on Nov. 6. If Democrats decide to kill her bill again, she has the option of asking Gov. Paul LePage to submit the bill on her behalf.
The second session of the legislative term is reserved, per Maine’s Constitution, for emergency measures and budget-related items. Although Democrats did not consider it an emergency to help victims of human trafficking, they did give the thumbs up to several other important items of legislation, including Eves’ bill to expand Medicaid, Rep. Joan Welsh (D-Rockport)’s “An Act to Amend the Law Governing the Collection of Minor Amounts of Property Taxes” and Rep. Lori Fowle (D-Vassalboro)’s “An Act to Allow Fishing Closer to the Fish Ladder on Webber Pond in Vassalboro”.
Perhaps the most unusual item of legislation that Legislative Council did approve on Wednesday is President Alfond’s L.R. 2483: “An Act To Amend the Laws Regarding Special Food and Beverage Taste-testing Event Licenses.”
Alfond’s bill would make it easier for upper-class Mainers to dine on fine cheese at wine-tastings.
Executive Director of Maine’s Christian Civic League Carroll Conley, whose organization has advocated on behalf of Volk’s bill, said he couldn’t understand why Democrats would scuttle a proposal that seems like common-sense.
“I’m bewildered by the fact that Democratic leadership could find an emergency in Justin Alfond’s wine-tasting bill and a previous bill to allow bars to open at 6:00am on St. Patty’s Day,” said Conley. “I don’t know what counts as an emergency in the Democrats’ book, but when they can’t approve of a bill to help victims of sex trafficking, you know you have a problem.”
“At best, it’s extreme partisanship; at worst, it’s hypocrisy,” he said. “Democrats always preach about helping powerless victims – that’s they’re entire rationale for expanding Medicaid – yet they can’t lift a finger to help young girls whose lives have been forever changed by the evils of sex trafficking?”
For more information about Rep. Volk’s bill, see the Polaris Project’s 2013 report about vacating convictions for sex trafficking victims.
To see model legislation similar to Volk’s bill, see the National Conference of Commissioner on Uniform State Law’s 2013 Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking.
For more information about the problem of human trafficking in Maine, see the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 2013 Data Break Down for the State of Maine.
(Editor’s Note: Due to an error of the author, an earlier version of this story indicated that Rep. Jeff McCabe had been contacted.)
Maine Wire Reporter