Provisions of state and federal law prohibit trafficking of human beings for prostitution or forced labor. Who could quibble? Proposition 35 is a bid to increase the criminal penalties for this modern-day slave trade, to bring state and federal laws into closer conformity and to provide some relief for the victims of this deplorable and degrading practice. The Press Democrat recommends a "Yes" vote on 35.
"Human trafficking competes with arms trafficking as the second-largest worldwide criminal enterprise, with its estimated revenues exceeding $15 billion," Nicholas Sensely, a former Santa Rosa police lieutenant, wrote on our pages in 2008.
Human trafficking is defined as violating a person's liberty for the purpose of forced labor or prostitution. Proposition 35 puts human traffickers at greater legal risk by increasing penalties, including a potential life sentence for trafficking a minor for sex if force or fraud is involved. Currently, the maximum sentence is eight years. The maximum penalty for labor trafficking would increase from five years to 12, and it would quadruple from five years to 20 for forced sex trafficking of an adult. The initiative also bolsters sex offender registration requirements and allows judges to impose fines of up to $1.5 million. Seventy percent of revenue from fines would be distributed to public agencies and nonprofit organizations that provide direct services to victims of sex or labor trafficking. The rest would be earmarked for law enforcement to be used for human trafficking prevention, witness protection and rescue operations.
Critics say Proposition 35 threatens to drive up the prison population at a time when the state is struggling to comply with a federal court order to reduce overcrowding. It's not an unreasonable concern, but it's not a likely scenario either, as federal prosecutors handle most human trafficking cases.
A more substantive criticism is that Proposition 35 is another example of ballot-box budgeting. With the state struggling to make ends meet, legislators need more flexibility to set priorities for state revenue.
On balance, however, this measure reinforces a simple conviction: Human trafficking is a repugnant crime worthy of harsh punishment.