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Human trafficking being tackled

February 3, 2012
Shepherdstown Chronicle

From the time I was elected to the House of Delegates in 1992 until just over a month ago I was a member of the House of Delegates Finance Committee.

This year I was removed from that committee and assigned to the Judiciary Committee. This change has already been quite an experience. There are four "major" committees in the House and about a dozen "minor" committees. All the major committees and most of the minor ones have 25 members. Every member of the House is assigned to one major committee and several minor ones. The majors are Finance, Judiciary, Education and Government Organization.

Finance and Judiciary are recognized as the more important two of the four majors. I have always considered Finance the most important committee. As the famous bank robber Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, "that's where the money is."

Most lawyers consider Judiciary the most important committee. In most years, more bills that pass the House will come from Judiciary than from the other three major committees combined.

All bills assigned to minor committees must be given a "second reference" to a major committee. That's a reform in the House Rules first suggested by me about 15 years ago. Minor committees have rudimentary staff and many bills the Legislature had passed that only went through minor committees were found later to have major technical flaws. The incidence of this has been reduced considerably by sending all bills through major committees.

West Virginia is one of only a few states that do not specifically outlaw human trafficking in statute. This year I think the Legislature might act to do so.

The phrase "human trafficking" is generally considered to mean abducting people and transporting them across political boundaries for labor or sex. There could be other purposes but these seem to be prevalent.

Some states have adapted their kidnapping laws to include human trafficking. Other states have adopted separate statutes. In which direction should West Virginia go? This has become a big argument among lawyers.

The Chair of the Judiciary Committee took the unusual step of appointing an ad hoc subcommittee consisting of 14 members (over half of the full Judiciary Committee) to study the whole human trafficking issue. I'm on it.

Appointing an ad hoc committee to study a particular bill is not what is unusual. It's the size of the subcommittee. Most ad hoc subcommittees only have about a half dozen members. Our subcommittee had met twice as of the writing of this column. By the time you read it I hope we will have agreed upon a bill that will make for an effective human trafficking statute, whether its an expansion of the kidnapping statute or an additional brand new statute.



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