A bill aimed at cracking down on human trafficking passed the Montana House on Saturday. The bill would target pimps by implementing the state's current prostitution laws and criminalize a wider number of sexual activities, including non-intercourse sexual contact.
On Saturday, Senate Bill 147, carried by Sen. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, passed the House 86-9. Five representatives were excused from voting.
The bill is aimed at identifying more ways to address human trafficking in Montana by broadening the scope of prosecutable offenses and targeting pimps.
The bill would criminalize paying for sexual contact or intercourse that is direct and not through clothing with another person, adding to the state's current prostitution laws that ban paying for sex.
It would also enable prosecutors to bring aggravated penalties against pimps, and will add pimping and sex trafficking to the list of violent crimes. That would include terms of up to life imprisonment for those charged with aggravated promotion of prostitution.
Sentencing for patrons will be harsher, too. Under the bill a patron's first offense can be fined up to $1,000 or up to a year in prison if the agreement was consensual and the person engaging in prostitution wasn't forced or coerced.
However, if the patron knew or should have reasonably known that the prostitute was a victim of trafficking, or was forced or coerced into prostitution, the patron faces up to 10 years in prison or $25,000 for the first offense.
If the person prostituted was a child, and the offender was over 18, the offender faces 100 years in prison and may be fined $50,000, regardless if the offender knew the prostitute was a child. It would also require the offender to complete a sexual offender treatment program. The patron would not be eligible for parole, suspensions, or deferrals for the first 25 years of imprisonment.
It also clarifies the definition of sexual consent as a defense. If the victim is trafficked or has been forced, defrauded or coerced into prostitution, the act is not considered consensual, so consent cannot be used as a defense.
The bill next goes to Gov. Steve Bullock to consider signing into law.