The Assembly unanimously passed a bill Monday that will toughen penalties on human trafficking, putting an end to a two-year debate that stretched from the halls of the Capitol to campaign trails across the state.
The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act will treat sex trafficking as a violent felony while increasing penalties for those promoting prostitution. It also requires law-enforcement officials to be better trained in dealing with such issues, and allows victims to raise trafficking as a defense to prosecution for prostitution.
For the past two years, the bill had been caught in the center of a dispute between Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats after it was included as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act. Senate Republicans had refused to pass Cuomo’s bill because it contained a provision that would bolster abortion rights, while the Democrat-led Assembly had previously refused to act on the individual measures of the bill separately.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, Westchester County, said she’s “very, very happy” the Assembly acted on the trafficking bill, which she sponsored.
“I’m very, very happy, as you can tell,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, Westchester County, who broke from her Democratic colleagues last year to call for a vote. “I’m ecstatic that we’re finally going to be making this a law in New York state and saving lives.”
The Senate passed the bill earlier this year and now will send it to Cuomo’s desk for approval.
The Women’s Equality Act became a major campaign issue last year both in the governor’s race and in the battle for control of the Senate. Many Democrats had accused their opponents of standing in the way of the measure becoming law, while Republicans — who ended up winning a slim Senate majority — accused Democrats of trying to expand access to abortion.
Since then, the Assembly’s top leadership post changed hands, with Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, replacing Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, as speaker after 21 years.
“There was an election of new members, particularly among the women’s caucus,” Heastie said Monday. “We just had a general discussion and this was the direction the women in the conference and the rest of the conference wanted to go.”
In a statement, Cuomo said “an injustice that simply cannot be allowed to continue in New York.”
“I look forward to signing this legislation quickly to make our state safer for this vulnerable population,” Cuomo said.